Thoughts: Game 72 – Pens get a bounce and earn a needed 3-1 win over Arizona

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.

Pens 3  Coyotes 1

Record: 40-22-10

Sutter (16) (PP), unassisted
Winnik (8) from Letang, Crosby
Crosby (24) (ENG), unassisted

Click here to read the goal assessments

Game 72 - Goals1

Bennett (holding the stick) – Stupid (grabs the stick of Murphy as he’s retrieving his own stick and tugs Murphy back with his stick, which leads to a holding the stick penalty in the offensive zone)
Adams (holding) – Inconsequential (gets hooked by Doan to draw a penalty but also clamps down on Doan’s stick and pulls it away from him to take a holding penalty at the same time)
Perron (tripping) – Careless (reaches out with one hand on his stick to try and poke the puck from McGinn from behind him and ends up hitting his skates to trip him for a penalty)
Letang (hooking) – Overly aggressive (gets his stick into the midsection of Hodgman to keep him from getting a puck coming off of the backboards near the net, so he gets called for hooking)

Three Forwards

Gm 72 - Forwards

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Recorded three shots on net, won the faceoff that led to Winnik’s goal, scored an empty-netter, broke up two plays in the neutral zone, had two neutral zone takeaways, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and drew three penalties.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away in the offensive zone and lost the puck twice in the neutral zone, with one of those instances leading to the Coyotes shorthanded goal.
  • Overall: Crosby continued his stretch of strong two-way games as he contributed in all three zones for the Penguins. He kept his feet moving at all times, which helped him draw three penalties, and he terrorized Arizona in the neutral zone in the second half of the game. He took over the NHL scoring lead thanks to an assist on Winnik’s goal as he won a faceoff back to Letang and an empty-net goal as he pushed the puck out of the defensive zone and scored from center ice. The only major blemish in his performance was not handling a pass cleanly in the neutral zone on the powerplay and then overskating the puck, which led to a 2-on-1 shorthanded goal for Arizona. He more than made up for that mistake through the rest of the night though.
Crosby and Fleury carried the team, just as you would expect. (Ralph Freso/AP Photo)

Crosby and Fleury carried the team, just as you would expect. (Ralph Freso/AP Photo)

Brandon Sutter
  • Good: Led the team with seven shots on net, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, broke up a play in the neutral zone, and received credit for a fluke goal that went into the net off of his pants.
  • Bad: Had one giveaway in the offensive zone.
  • Overall: Random lucky powerplay goal aside, Sutter made most of the right decisions in the offensive zone and he looked great with Kunitz and Downie on his wings on the new 2nd line. He put the puck on net every chance he had and looked stronger with the puck, albeit against a weaker Coyotes team. Opponent must be noted, but Kunitz-Sutter-Downie certainly has potential as a 2nd line until Malkin returns. It will also help if opposing goalies want to continue throwing the puck off of Sutter and into the net.
Blake Comeau
  • Good: Had five shots on net and intercepted four passes, including three in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the offensive zone, had an offensive giveaway, lost his coverage once in the defensive zone late in the game, and botched two 2-on-1 chances in the offensive zone.
  • Overall: Comeau stayed on Crosby’s line and he took on a very Dupuis-like role when it came to simplifying his game and getting back on defense. His backchecking was fantastic all night as he kept racing back into the defensive zone to break up plays and intercept passes. In the offensive zone, he was solid when the play was settled, but not so solid on the rush. He had two great 2-on-1 chances that he managed to ruin by himself. On the first one, Comeau had the puck as he entered the offensive zone with Crosby. He lost control of the puck, then regained control, then made a terrible pass that was behind Crosby so the chance turned into nothing. On the second one, he held the puck as he skated through the offensive zone, then decided to take a shot, which he partially fanned on as it slid slowly to the net. The second chance created some chaos around the net at least, but those were some messy wasted opportunities. Perhaps playing with Crosby is making everyone grip their sticks tightly at this point.

A Goalie and a Defenseman

Gm 72 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Made 30 saves on 31 shots, which included: a blocker save from the high slot, a redirect save on Moore from the top of the crease, a left pad save and a rebound save on Stone from the bottom of the left circle, a save on Arcobello on the penalty kill from the slot, a powerplay save on Rieder alone in the slot after a bad Perron turnover, and a glove save late in the game on Stone from the right circle.
  • Bad: None.
  • Overall: After his team hung him out to dry on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break that turned into a goal, Fleury was unbeatable for the rest of the night. Arizona dominated the first period and made several strong pushes in the third, but Fleury was positioned well throughout the night and did a great job of squaring up to rebound chances as well. With each game, he looks more like a savvy, well-positioned veteran than the goalie who used athleticism to survive. The team may not be there yet, but it looks like Fleury is ready for the playoffs to start.
Fleury doesn't even need to open his eyes anymore to make saves. (Ralph Freso/AP Photo)

Fleury doesn’t even need to open his eyes anymore to make saves. (Ralph Freso/AP Photo)

Kris Letang
  • Good: Recorded four shots, forced a defensive zone turnover, broke up a play in the defensive zone, and assisted on Winnik’s goal with a one-timer from the top of the zone.
  • Bad: Lost two pucks in the offensive zone and took an aggressive hooking penalty near the Penguins net.
  • Overall: Letang played 31:09 since the defense only had five men and he showed no wear and tear despite the heavy workload. He continued with Thursday’s effort of getting the puck to the net and assisted on Winnik’s goal because of it. That wasn’t just any one-timer either, Letang opted to one-time a wobbly/bouncing puck instead of settling it down like he normally would, which allowed the play to continue in perfect timing as the shot went past Winnik skating through the slot so he could deflect it past Smith. Even one of his bad moments was encouraging as he took a defensive zone penalty, but didn’t argue with the refs for once as he went to the box. A few more games like this, and we’ll look at the Detroit game as just a weird bump in the road.

Two Thoughts

Dismal Start – The Penguins didn’t practice on Friday, didn’t hold a morning skate on Saturday, and changed up the forward lines completely going into the game. The result was Arizona dominating the first period as they outshot the Pens 13-3 in what was possibly the most disappointing period of the season. The effort was terrible, the execution was even worse, and Ben Lovejoy came off the ice for his intermission interview saying the team played awful and they were terrible. Who knows what else was said during intermission, but the Pens came out with a 21-shot second period performance and looked much more like the team we’re accustomed to seeing. Is it possible that the first period was rock bottom and the wakeup call that the Penguins needed? Perhaps, but it’s still worth noting that the Pens only beat the Coyotes 3-1, with a goal that Mike Smith shot off of Brandon Sutter and an empty-net goal. Still, the losing streak ends and the Penguins received a couple of bounces that they were long overdue to get. Now the question is will those bounces continue against a much stronger Blues team on Tuesday.

Other Player NotesChristian Ehrhoff was a late scratch after warmups with a “nagging” injury that is supposedly not concussion-related. The Penguins are in a bind when it comes to cap space, so hopefully this isn’t something that lasts through Tuesday. Beau Bennett led the team in recorded hits with seven and looked more confident with the puck as the game progressed. I would rather see him stickhandling than hitting, but he appears to be trying to make the best of his lack of role at least. David Perron had a shaky game with a few turnovers, including two in the defensive zone, and a demotion to the 3rd line. He also took another minor penalty, which is much tougher to accept each game when the offensive production isn’t matching it. Daniel Winnik had another solid game and was finally rewarded for it with a boost to the top line and a goal on a deflection from the slot past Smith’s right shoulder. He fit in very well with Crosby and Comeau, which gives Johnston yet another option for line combinations.

**Not a lot of real takeaways from this game since Arizona has one win in their last 18 games**

Winnik finally got his first goal as a Penguin and it probably won't be his last. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Winnik finally got his first goal as a Penguin and it probably won’t be his last. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Next Game: 3/24 vs StL, 7pm

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