Thoughts: Game 73 – Pens blow two-goal lead in 3-2 (OT) loss to Blues

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.

Blues 3  Pens 2 (OT)

Record: 40-22-11

Goals
Comeau (16) from Winnik, Spaling
Downie (13) from Spaling

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 73 - Goals

Penalties
Winnik (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a shoving match with Michalek after a whistle and they each receive a minor for roughing)
Adams (fighting) – Inconsequential (gets into a fight with Ott after the Penguins score 2 goals in 17 seconds and each player receives a fighting major)

Three Forwards

Gm 73 - Forwards

Daniel Winnik
  • Good: Assisted on Comeau’s goal as he carried the puck below the left faceoff circle and made a perfect centering pass as he was falling to the ice, broke up a play in the defensive zone, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, had two takeaways, and dominated offensive zone possession as he cycled the puck very well with Crosby and Perron down low.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways.
  • Overall: Winnik appears to have found a new home on Crosby’s left wing and performances like this one will ensure that he doesn’t leave it any time soon. The entire first line was on the same page the whole night and they had several strong puck possession shifts in the offensive zone as they cycled and protected the puck along the boards. Winnik did a masterful job of shielding the puck with his body as he moved around the offensive zone and it even led to a couple of quality chances as he set up Letang across the ice much like Crosby would. I’m not sure that he has the offensive production/prowess to stay on the line if everyone is completely healthy, but Johnston has a new top-six fill-in and a change of pace guy ready to go for any shift.
Winnik has emerged as a potential first line winger for Crosby, which is just what Crosby always wanted, right? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Winnik has emerged as a potential first line winger for Crosby, which is just what Crosby always wanted, right? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Nick Spaling
  • Good: Earned the secondary assist on Comeau’s goal by chipping the puck from the defensive zone up to Winnik in the neutral zone, earned the primary assist on Downie’s goal by stepping up on an errant Bouwmeester pass in the offensive zone and feeding the puck to Downie by himself in front of the net, broke up two plays, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, and had a defensive zone takeaway.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the neutral zone and appeared to wear down in the third period, when he lost two battles to clear the puck along the boards in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Spaling had a productive game overall despite being put on misfit island with Downie in the 11-forward setup. He played a part in both Penguins’ goals, the second of which was the most impressive as he was already back in a defensively responsible position at the Blues’ blue line and stepped up on Bouwmeester’s bad pass to take the puck and send it to Downie alone in front of the net. He was defensively responsible for most of the game, but there were definitely shifts in the third period where he just struggled against the size of the Blues’ forwards. The same can be said about most of the Penguins and that might turn into an issue quickly in a seven-game series against some of the bigger rosters in the league.
Brandon Sutter
  • Good: Recorded three shots on net, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway in the offensive zone to go along with a lost puck, a lost coverage, and a failed clear in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: While Spaling may have struggled with the size of the Blues late in the game, Sutter had that issue through most of the game. He was weak on the puck in the defensive zone and he has almost no hope of fighting off Blues’ forwards on the puck. On the plus side, he did look decent in the offensive zone and it looks like Kunitz elevates his game (though Kunitz has plenty of his own issues, oddly enough). However, Sutter’s struggles in the defensive zone led to several quality opportunities against and he essentially has to find a way to be perfectly positioned in the defensive zone at all times if he’s not going to be able to battle for pucks.

Three Defensemen

Gm 73 - Defense

Derrick Pouliot
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, drew a high-sticking penalty, forced an offensive zone turnover, had a defensive zone takeaway, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway and a lost puck in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Pouliot was recalled Tuesday as the Penguins went with seven defensemen, which quickly turned to six after Ehrhoff was injured early in the first period. He ended up playing 22:39 thanks to 4:41 of powerplay time, which gave him more ice time than everyone except for Crosby, Letang, and Perron. He looked strong throughout the night and managed to avoid most of the physical play from the Blues (not including a high-stick to his face). He continues to be a spark just by moving in the offensive zone, where he stepped up for a forced turnover and also moved himself into position for a perfect one-timer that led to a rebound chance for Crosby, who lifted the puck over Allen and wide. Aside from a normal mistake here and there, Pouliot continues to prove himself capable of big minutes in the NHL. Furthermore, a successful game against the Blues suggests that he’s getting ready for playoff hockey.
Kris Letang
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, blocked three shots, broke up two plays in the defensive zone, had a defensive zone takeaway, and chipped the puck to Spaling to start the play that led to Comeau’s goal.
  • Bad: Had three giveaways (two in the defensive zone), lost a puck in the neutral zone, and had a failed clear and lost coverage in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Letang looked uncharacteristically off, along with Paul Martin, as the top defensive pairing never seemed to get on the same page for breakouts or defensive zone coverage against the Blues. No harm was done against the pairing, but Letang was especially bad with puck management and turnovers on his half of the ice. Johnston may have noticed this early in the game based on the ice time for the pairing (25:15 for Letang, which was less than Crosby, and 19:28 for Martin). Letang still managed to contribute to the first goal and he played much better in the third period, which is when he had both of his broken-up plays, but this performance definitely didn’t match the level he was at against Arizona or in the 3rd period against Dallas.
Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Had one defensive zone takeaway.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away in the defensive zone, had a failed clearing attempt, and lost two coverages, one of which inexplicably happened on Goc’s goal when Scuderi dropped to one knee in a one-on-one situation against Reaves, which allowed Reaves to get around him easily to the crease.
  • Overall: I praised Scuderi frequently in the first half of the season for playing smart and simple hockey, but all of that has been eroding in the second half of the season and his costly mistakes have been increasing rapidly over the past few weeks (certainly magnified by the team’s lack of offense to cover for it). He struggled to get the puck and move it anywhere in the defensive zone, often settling for just knocking it to the corners, where the Blues retrieved the puck or won puck battles to get it back. I can’t comprehend what his thought process was against Reaves before Goc scored the 2nd goal for the Blues. Scuderi was on the crease with no pass to defend and no one behind him, but he dropped to one knee as Reaves skated towards him, which allowed Reaves to cut down to the goal line to get the puck around him, forcing Fleury into making a poke check that sent the puck to Goc in the slot. If Scuderi just steps up on Reaves or just stands in place, he probably gets bowled over but the play immediately dies as Reaves inevitably loses the puck since he would run out of room. I understand dropping to the ice to protect passing lanes, but Scuderi’s decision was out of either panic or lack of awareness in what should have been a simple situation. I don’t expect him to sit in the playoffs, but I have to question how he hasn’t received a game off or a few more days off as his play has worn down.
Scuderi's defense hasn't exactly been up to par lately. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Scuderi’s defense hasn’t exactly been up to par lately. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Three Thoughts

Another Good Game, Another Loss – The trend in March has been largely along the lines of: good game, good effort, tough loss. The Penguins followed that blueprint as usual against the Blues, though they didn’t dominate the shot totals this time and they actually had a lead to protect for once. After scoring two goals in 17 seconds in the 2nd period though, they couldn’t protect that lead against a very strong (physically and talent-wise) Blues team that is among the best in hockey. I thought the Pens played a good overall game, but it’s impossible not to be disappointed with a blown two-goal lead, especially when the team knows they have to shut things down in the defensive zone given their lack of offense without Malkin and Hornqvist. Both goals-against in regulation occurred on scrambles around the net, so it wasn’t a systematic defensive breakdown that cost them the game, but this team has to eventually “find ways” to win games if they’re going to succeed in the playoffs.

Momentum, Fights, and Powerplays – To start this paragraph, I’m aware that many scientists have said momentum is an illusion, but I’m still on the fence because human cognition is a crazy thing. Science thoughts aside, many of the Blues spoke after the game about how the fight between Adams and Ott changed everything for them. Timeline: The Penguins scored two goals in 17 seconds, Adams and Ott dropped the gloves on the next faceoff, and the Blues scored two goals in 2:32 (six minutes after the fight). It seems to make sense when it’s put that way; the Blues must have gained momentum from the fight and took over the game. How about a different theory. How about the Penguins going on the powerplay two minutes after the Adams fight and producing a lot of nothing, which slowed down the pace of the game and the offense. If you’re going to talk about momentum swings, I don’t think it had anything to do with the Adams fight (which I admittedly wondered about as he dropped the gloves because the timing was questionable). I think it had everything to do with the terrible powerplay effort that slowed the Penguins down and allowed the Blues to start dictating the speed and pace of the play. After all, the Blues scored their two goals in 2:32 minutes just two minutes after the failed powerplay, as opposed to six minutes after the Adams fight. Adams is an easy scapegoat in this situation, but yet again, there is a stronger correlation (not necessarily causation) that the a failed powerplay hurt this team.

Did this fight actually change the game?  Ehhhhh.... (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Did this fight actually change the game? Ehhhhh…. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Ehrhoff Injured – Ehrhoff’s return to the lineup lasted for two shifts totaling 1:13 before he was hit hard by Tarasenko shoulder-to-shoulder into the boards in the defensive zone. On the hit, Ehrhoff’s head whiplashed into the boards and he stayed down for several minutes before skating off under his own power. It was reported that he was wobbly leaving the ice and walking down the runway to the locker room. The Penguins provided no update on Ehrhoff after the game, but that information sure lends itself to thinking it’s another concussion. If it is another concussion, which would come with another unpredictable timeline, it’s probably best to just plan for the playoffs with Pouliot as a 2nd pairing defenseman and Ehrhoff out. On the bright side, Pouliot continues to prove himself capable of taking on that role.

Next Game: 3/26 @ Car, 7pm

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