Thoughts: Game 71 – Offensive struggles continue in Pens 2-1 loss to Stars

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Here’s a link to the Postgame Thoughts archive, in case you want to catch up on what you may have missed.

Stars 2  Pens 1

Record: 39-22-10

Goals
Letang (11) (PP) from Crosby, Ehrhoff

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 71 - Goals

Penalties
Comeau (interference) – Unnecessary (steps up and takes out one of Goligoski’s legs as Goligoski is trying to follow Crosby in the Stars zone, so it’s an interference penalty)
Letang (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a battle with McKenzie after McKenzie cross-checks him and interferes with him, and they each receive minors)
Letang (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a battle with McKenzie after McKenzie cross-checks him and interferes with him, and they each receive minors)
Comeau (roughing) – Stupid (collides with Garbutt shortly after a neutral zone faceoff and then keeps shoving him until he gets called for roughing)
Letang (unsportsmanlike conduct – 2 min) – Stupid (argues with the officials as he goes to the bench about a non-call and then mock claps a referee from the bench as he’s yelling at him to get a minor penalty)
Downie (slashing) – Stupid (jabs Roussel in the midsection after the 2nd period ends right in front of the officials for a penalty)
Perron (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets knocked down to the ice and held there by Klingberg, then grabs Klingberg’s stick and starts shoving him from the ice, so they each receive a minor)

Three Forwards

Gm 71 - Forwards

Blake Comeau
  • Good: Recorded four shots on net, intercepted two passes, broke up a play in the defensive zone, had a takeaway in the neutral zone, and drew a penalty.
  • Bad: Lost three pucks (two in the offensive zone) and took two unnecessary penalties.
  • Overall: Comeau was bumped up to the first line after looking better there towards the end of the New Jersey game. The result was a mixed bag. He was solid defensively but didn’t seem to read Crosby and Kunitz well, which led to a couple of missed opportunities and lost pucks in the offensive zone. His performance was further hindered by two bad penalties – blatant interference in the offensive zone while Crosby had the puck and a stupid roughing penalty for going after Garbutt in the neutral zone. He was still dependable for putting the puck on net when he got a chance at least.
Chris Kunitz
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, had a defensive zone takeaway, broke up a play in the defensive zone, and set the screen in front of Lehtonen that led to Letang’s goal.
  • Bad: Had a terrible start to the game with two lost defensive zone coverages, lost two pucks in the neutral zone, and gave the puck away once in the neutral zone.
  • Overall: Dallas started the game with plenty of speed and pressure and it was clear early on that Kunitz did not have the legs to match them. Within the first ten minutes of the game, Kunitz had lost track of two of his assignments skating into the defensive zone. Eventually the Stars slowed down and Kunitz looked better, but his performance was mostly saved by a contribution on Letang’s goal. On the powerplay, Kunitz went straight to the front of the net to screen Lehtonen off of the faceoff. His screen was perfect for Letang’s shot because Lehtonen was actually trying to look up and over Kunitz’s shoulders instead of around him, which left Lehtonen vulnerable to a very slow drop to the ice on Letang’s five-hole goal. As a whole though, it was not a strong game for Kunitz when it came to playing at the speed that the Stars were pushing.
As long as Kunitz keeps going to the net, he still has plenty of value. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

As long as Kunitz keeps going to the net, he still has good value though. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

Beau Bennett
  • Good: Had an offensive zone takeaway and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away in the offensive zone, failed to clear the puck once in the defensive zone, and was largely invisible…except for when he scored on Fleury.
  • Overall: For the second game in a row, Bennett showed up more as a physical presence than an offensive force, which is not good for Beau Bennett. Luck didn’t help him out either as he made a perfect read to stop a cross-crease pass in the defensive zone and ended up redirecting the puck through Fleury’s five-hole for the Stars’ first goal. My biggest concern with him right now is that he is showing less creativity and less confidence offensively with every game. He just isn’t adding anything tangible right now. Much like how Bortuzzo went out, the inevitable issue might be that Bennett and this coaching staff just don’t fit together.

Two Defensemen and a Goalie

Gm 71 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Stopped 26 of 28 shots, which included: a save on Ritchie from the right circle that was followed by two rebound saves, a shoulder save on Sceviour on a 2-on-1 rush, a glove save on McKenzie from the left circle, and several pad and rebound saves on the penalty kill.
  • Bad: None.
  • Overall: Fleury was his usual good self in another tough loss as the goalie received no help. The first goal he allowed was an unexpected redirect by Bennett on the crease through his five-hole. The second goal came from Jamie Benn alone on the crease as Fleury went for a poke check, still made a pad save on Benn, but couldn’t stop Benn from scoring on the rebound as no one came to help Fleury. Fleury continues to look calm in net and you have to wonder what the lack of offense is doing to his mentality, so it’s a good sign that Fleury hasn’t pressured himself going for shutouts every game. According to Josh Yohe, several players thanked Fleury in the locker room after the game, so it appears we’re all on the same page in thinking he’s the only one consistently showing up.
Kris Letang
  • Good: Led the team with seven shots, scored a powerplay goal, led the team with four blocked shots, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, forced a defensive zone turnover, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away twice in the defensive zone, had a failed clear, and took a bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after he mocked the referees by clapping at them from the bench after mouthing off to them.
  • Overall: If Letang wouldn’t have been such an offensive force in the third period, this entire section would have been railing him for not learning a thing from the Detroit game. He needs to get his temper under control, but a minor penalty and a talk from Johnston on the bench did the trick against Dallas at least. After that turn of events, Letang looked like he borrowed Malkin’s beast mode demeanor and started firing everything on net. It worked out as he notched a powerplay goal with the help of Kunitz’s screen in front. The powerplay still has plenty to figure out, but Letang shooting like he did in the 3rd period will go a long way to improving that unit, which will turn these shutouts and one-goal losses into wins quickly. Hopefully 3rd period Letang is here to stay.
Letang needed a wake up call, but he was on bath salts after he got it. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

Letang needed a wake up call, but he was on bath salts after he got it. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Blocked three shots, intercepted three passes, and broke up two plays in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, failed to clear the puck once, and had a lost coverage that partially led to the 2nd goal against.
  • Overall: Scuderi continues to not play *that* bad, but he made a costly error for the second game in a row that really hurt the Penguins. He was certainly not alone when it came to who was at fault for Jamie Benn’s goal, but Scuderi played his part as he made a great poke check on Eakin to push the puck away from him, but then drifted slowly to the corner unaware of his surroundings (Crosby next to him, Benn alone in front of the net) as the puck rolled to Seguin, who set up Benn in front by himself. It wasn’t a turnover or a bad step up, but his lack of awareness (which also goes for Crosby and Spaling on the play) was something the Pens couldn’t afford. When Pouliot comes back up, it’s really hard to defend any decision that isn’t sending Scuderi to the press box.

Three Thoughts

Process…Kinda – Repetitive as it may be, the focus is still on process over everything. The process out west was great. Since then…it depends on the period. Good against Boston, okay against Detroit, good against New Jersey, shaky against Dallas. The Penguins didn’t look like they were ready for Dallas when the puck dropped and they were lucky to get out of the first period with a scoreless game. They weren’t so lucky with Bennett’s redirection and they were just plain bad for Benn’s goal. After Letang’s penalty, the team started to turn a corner. They showed more bounce-back ability in the 3rd period against the Stars than they have in quite a while, so that’s a promising sign. The overall effort was not impressive though. Without Malkin and Hornqvist, the Penguins simply aren’t good enough to play an inconsistent game. If they can’t outplay Arizona to end this four-game losing streak, start piling on additional concerns about team mentality.

The process...seems to be getting shaky at times. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

The process…seems to be getting shaky at times. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

Lesson Learned? – Possibly the most disappointing part of this game, goal-scoring aside, was watching Letang take a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. True, he was manhandled earlier in the game by McKenzie in a situation that saw both players go off the ice for four minutes despite McKenzie probably earning twice as many penalties on the play. However, Letang said all of the right things after the Detroit mess about how the team has a reputation and they need to work on it, then he proceeded to run his mouth and mock clap the referees to earn a penalty. After a little talk from Johnston and some time in the box, Letang turned his game around completely, but that shouldn’t have been necessary after the Detroit game. I’ll stand by this statement for as long as necessary – the team needs to get over it and play through it. There is nothing else that is going to help them in any way when it comes to getting calls. Just keep skating.  (Shout out to Downie and Kunitz for very childish moves at the end of the 2nd period that led to Downie getting a minor penalty as well.)

Moves or Motivation? – Jason Mackey came out with an article on Friday night (benefit of writing this post so late!) that suggested/said the Penguins weren’t happy with Adams and Bennett and were considering the possibilities of using Kapanen, Sundqvist, Megna, Rust, Ebbett, or Wilson in the playoffs. Kapanen and Sundqvist aren’t eligible to join the team until their current teams finish their seasons (both in the playoffs right now). We’ve all seen how the team has used the Trib before – so is there anything real to this or is this a way to motivate some guys? The latter seems likely, but it would be encouraging even if the organization is thinking about these moves for the sake of improvement. In the end, not a single guy listed in this paragraph will make or break a playoff series. But in a world of one-goal games, one of them getting a bounce still has value. Right now, no one on the current team is getting a bounce, so it’s not the worst idea to keep trying different 4th liners until someone gets one.

Next Game: 3/21 @ Ari, 9pm

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