Thoughts: Game 71 – Blues 1 Pens 0

Blues 1  Pens 0

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
None

Stats
Shots: Malkin (7)
Missed Shots: Kunitz (2)
Blocked Shots: Kunitz (3)
Hits: Orpik (6)
Ice Time: Malkin (24:32) … Glass (9:00)
Faceoffs: Sutter (4/7) … Malkin (3/8)

Highlight of the game: Brenden Morrow tapping Fleury's pads after a save. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Highlight of the game: Brenden Morrow tapping Fleury’s pads after a save. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Quick Summary
Good: Fleury, Orpik, Stempniak
Noteworthy: Malkin
Bad: None
Other Players: Maatta, Kunitz, Gibbons, Crosby
Misc Thoughts: Which Team is Better?, Powerplay Issues, Seven Defensemen
1st GA: Malkin
Bortuzzo (interference; Bad)
Adams (roughing; Inconsequential)
Malkin (high-sticking; Bad-Stupid)

Player Assessment

Good
Hopefully this recent stretch doesn't ruin Fleury for the playoffs...again... (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Hopefully this recent stretch doesn’t ruin Fleury for the playoffs…again… (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Sometimes, Marc-Andre Fleury puts together a fantastic game and the team doesn’t help him out on defense, so it ends up as an ugly looking loss. Other times, Marc-Andre Fleury puts together a fantastic game and the team doesn’t help him out on offense, so it ends up as a frustrating loss. Great options for Fleury’s psyche! MAF was solid yet again in net and had the numbers to back it up with 26 saves on 27 shots. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to overcome the goose egg scored by the offense. The only goal he allowed was a deflection off of the knee of David Backes in front of the crease. He made a couple of dazzling saves late in the game to keep the Penguins within one goal, but sadly, it seems like anything Fleury does is not enough for this team right now.

Brooks Orpik – Though Orpik has not matched up well against several highly-skilled, successful teams, it appeared that the Blues would be a playoff matchup (aiming very high there) he could do well in. Orpik matched up well against most of the forwards 1-on-1, dished out a team-leading six hits, and also looked completely comfortable absorbing them from the big St. Louis forwards as well. I marked him down for two good 1-on-1 poke checks, a pass break up in the defensive zone, and two blocks on the penalty kill. Aside from one giveaway in the neutral zone, it was a solid game for Orpik.

Lee Stempniak – Stempniak’s tenacity continues to be a major unexpected asset on the first line. He had two offensive zone takeaways, drew a hooking penalty, and forced a turnover on the backcheck due to his unwavering commitment to chasing pucks down everywhere. He has shown himself to be part-Kunitz and part-Dupuis, which of course has been a great fit around Crosby. Good things will keep happening with these efforts.

Noteworthy
It's hard to finish when you're being mauled. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s hard to finish when you’re being mauled. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin was excellent at times and frustrating at times (The Life and Times of Evgeni Malkin, right?) against St. Louis. He drew two tripping penalties against the Blues and created several fantastic chances in the offensive zone as he piled up seven shots. Unfortunately, his successes were negated by three giveaways (two offensive zone, one defensive zone), and a slight retaliatory high-sticking penalty. The Blues didn’t score on that powerplay, but they did get the winning goal before Malkin could return to the play just as the penalty expired. Against a different team and a different goalie, this could have been a hat trick effort and all would be forgotten, but that’s not the case in this one.

Bad

None

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Olli Maatta had a very shaky start to the game but settled down once he adjusted to the Blues really attacking him on rushes and physically. It was seemingly forever ago, but many coaches planned against Maatta in a similar way early in the season and he has continuously proven he can adjust to it on the fly. Chris Kunitz had trouble holding the puck in the offensive zone, but he was great defensively. He actually led the team with blocks (3) and played some great 1-on-1 defense covering for pinching defensemen. Brian Gibbons drew yet another penalty and continues to at least put the top players back on the ice with what he does 5-on-5. Sidney Crosby had his chances against the Blues with 5 shots, but no points against David Backes as usual (rabble rabble line matchups rabble rabble).

The Blues even won the wrestling match. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Blues even won the wrestling match. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Which Team is Better? – There were several ways to take this game. It was frustrating because of the lack of goals. It was disappointing because the Penguins couldn’t beat a top tier team on home ice. It was infuriating as Backes was allowed to stand on the crease for the Blues’ only goal of the game. Most of all though, it was reality. St. Louis is a better team than Pittsburgh, especially given their all-star defense and overall depth. Beyond that, Brian Elliott is not a typical backup goalie – he is well above average in that regard. A 1-0 loss to St. Louis tells you exactly what the rosters say, St. Louis is a better team but Pittsburgh has the star power to stay in it. The Penguins did not make many mistakes, generally played stronger defense than they have in months, and played the brand of hockey that is required for a coin-flip decision in the playoffs. Against a better team, those are all very good things. The Pens aren’t where they want to be yet, but an effort like this one suggests that they are really just a Martin and/or Letang away from getting there. That is good news compared to how they looked a weekend ago. If nothing else, they can learn a lot from the Blues.

Powerplay Issues – Part of the disappointing zero goal effort was the disappointing 0 for 5 powerplay, including a lengthy 5-on-3 opportunity at the start of the second period. The 5-on-3 was manned by Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Jokinen, and Neal. That would be the odd combination of five forwards, all of whom shoot lefty. There were at least three possible shot opportunities where the puck reached the man in the left faceoff circle, who was a lefty, and thus couldn’t cleanly accept a pass or one-time the puck on net. It led to lots of passing, lots of not clean passing, and lots of frustration. I understand having arguably your five best players on the ice, but either Stempniak or Niskanen could have easily filled that role as a right-hander who could take shots easily from that spot. What was it that Shero and Bylsma said about not having the best players, but the right players for Team USA? Maybe that should be the powerplay mantra…even if it didn’t work out for Team USA.

Seven Defensemen – The only other aspect of the game I really questioned was the use of seven defensemen. Though Engelland was listed as the 4th line right winger to begin the game, he played defense as seven guys rotated in and out. It certainly had its benefits as both Niskanen and Maatta saw a nice reduction in playing time which benefits them both overall and in the back-to-back situation. However, those minutes could have easily been given to Bortuzzo and Despres in an effort to build up their experience and test them against one of the best in the NHL. It may have not had a huge impact on the game, but I was certainly looking forward to Engelland throwing checks into a great St. Louis defense and wearing them down on the forecheck. Who knows if it would have made a difference.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Backes)
Evgeni Malkin had been in the penalty box for high-sticking and cannot get into the play before the goal occurs. Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on the penalty kill and sends the rebound all the way out to the blue line along the left side boards. Kevin Shattenkirk gets to the puck before it clears the zone though and he throws it down the boards to David Backes below the goal line. Backes immediately moves the puck to TJ Oshie in the left faceoff circle. Oshie gets knocked forward by Craig Adams, but doesn’t lose the puck as he loops through the left corner and passes it across the ice to the right point for Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo fakes a shot and then carries the puck to the top of the right faceoff circle before passing it to Alex Steen moving back to the right point. Steen passes the puck back to Pietrangelo next to the right faceoff circle just as the penalty is expiring. Pietrangelo passes it back to the right point for Steen, who one-times the puck off of the knee of David Backes on top of the crease and into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Malkin (20)
*Though Scuderi received a lot of criticism for not clearing the crease, he was not in a position to engage with Backes because of Kevin Shattenkirk set up for a possible one-timer at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. It was just a well-run powerplay.

Goal Against: Elliot - By @JustPuckIt

Goal Against: Elliot – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Bortuzzo (interference): Bad, is standing by the Blues bench and takes a couple of steps forward while extending his arms to take out Ryan Reaves coming off of the bench.
Adams (roughing): Inconsequential, gets challenged to a fight by Max Lapierre after a clean hit by Adams on Reaves. The two wrestle for a couple of seconds before it ends.
Malkin (high-sticking): Bad-Stupid, after he collides with three Blues in the offensive zone, Malkin takes a little extra jab with his stick in the air towards Backes, making contact for a high-sticking call.

Pens Record: 46-20-5
Next Game: Tuesday, 3/25 vs Phoenix, 7pm

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