Thoughts: Game 75 – Pens 4 Blackhawks 1

Pens 4  Blackhawks 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Neal (24) from Jokinen, Bortuzzo
Stempniak (11) from Niskanen, Kunitz
Crosby (35) from Kunitz
Crosby (36) (EN) from Maatta, Bennett

Shero seems to have found gold in Lee Stempniak. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Shero seems to have found gold in Lee Stempniak. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Shots: Crosby (8)
Missed Shots: Neal (2)
Blocked Shots: Scuderi (4)
Hits: Pyatt (6)
Ice Time: Niskanen (21:28) … Megna (9:35)
Faceoffs: Jokinen (8/10) … Sutter (7/18)

Quick Summary
Good: Crosby, Fleury, Neal, Sutter, Bortuzzo
Noteworthy: Kunitz, Engelland
Bad: Adams, Niskanen
Other Players: Bennett, Jokinen, Maatta
Misc Thoughts: Orpik Hit, Opportunistic Effort
1st GF: Bortuzzo, Jokinen, Bennett, Neal
2nd GF: Niskanen, Stempniak
1st GA: Orpik
3rd GF: Kunitz, Stempniak, Crosby
4th GF: Bennett, Maatta, Crosby
Engelland (slashing; Bad-Stupid)

Player Assessment

Crosby showed more relief than joy in putting the Blackhawks away. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Crosby showed more relief than joy in putting the Blackhawks away. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Sidney Crosby – Crosby took the game into his own hands as much as he possibly could in a two-goal effort that still featured some fantastic saves from Crawford. Crosby led the team with eight shots and went 20 for 29 in faceoffs as the Blackhawks gave him a bit more space than most would consider appropriate. He was also very good in the defensive zone, forcing two turnovers near the crease and also intercepting a defensive zone pass. Add in a drawn high-sticking penalty and Crosby had quite a well-rounded night.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury lost his shutout on a shot he couldn’t see (again), but was fantastic overall as he made 25 saves on 26 shots. The Penguins gave up a few quality chances from the slot as Chicago dominated most of the game and Fleury was up to the task. Some of his most notable saves included stopping Patrick Sharp alone in the slot and also Teuvo Teravainen on a rebound chance. Yet again, Fleury was great with pucks down low despite getting run into several times.

James Neal – In the week that Malkin has been out of the lineup, James Neal has elevated his puck pursuit significantly to help the second line. Neal had an offensive zone steal, a forced turnover from backchecking, and he also helped out on two clearing attempts by going deep into the defensive zone to retrieve the puck. As if his overall play wasn’t enough, Neal scored the opening goal as well and finished with four shots on net in the game. Well-rounded Neal is much better than psychotic Neal.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter opened the game against the Toews line and played most of the game against the remnants of the Toews line after Toews was injured (yes, matchups, credit Bylsma). He was nothing short of fantastic for most of the game. Sutter had three defensive zone takeaways, an offensive zone pass interception, an offensive zone takeaway, and a prevented clear in the offensive zone. When Sutter was on the ice, the Blackhawks had no access to the middle of any zone.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo has somehow found himself as the most consistent defensemen the Penguins have had over the past two weeks. He assisted on Neal’s goal, forced two turnovers with poke checks, intercepted a centering pass on the crease, and played great 1-on-1 defense twice to force turnovers. His offensive zone puck-handling needed work as he passed the puck out of the zone twice and turned it over, but his defense was very strong. He almost crossed a line when he pestered Andrew Shaw with several cross-checks to his back, but nothing was called and all he did was get under the skin of Chicago. Bortuzzo, as long as he isn’t called on those types of plays, is doing everything right for the Penguins.

Kunitz also had good air time in the crease. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Kunitz also had good air time in the crease. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz had some issues with the puck in the neutral zone (two turnovers and two missed pass receptions on clears), but his defensive work was solid. He forced four turnovers with poke checks in the defensive zone, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and earned his assist by getting to a loose puck before the Blackhawks could in the defensive zone. He did also have a failed clear, but he deserves a lot of credit for how he was helping out the defensemen all game.

Deryk Engelland – Engelland was quite successful in forcing turnovers but then unsuccessful with the puck. He forced two turnovers with hits, won a puck battle, and also had a defensive zone takeaway. That led to two failed clears and a neutral zone giveaway. Engelland epitomized what the Penguins have struggled with lately in the defensive zone. He was able to get the puck and break up what the Blackhawks were doing, but he demonstrated almost no ability to get the puck out of the zone. Add in an unnecessary slashing penalty and Engelland was consistently inconsistent in his efforts.

Adams should be in danger of losing a lineup spot with his play. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Adams should be in danger of losing a lineup spot with his play. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Craig Adams – While several players did a good job of recording takeaways only to give the puck away, Adams generally just gave the puck away. He had several extended shifts in the defensive zone due to failed clearing attempts (three) and also failed to even help clearing attempts by other players when he was caught too deep in the zone. His lack of quickness really hurt him against the Blackhawks because he couldn’t manage covering the points as the Blackhawks moved the puck around the zone. If you’re an advanced stats person, his CF% was 12.5%. If you’re not an advanced stats person, know that 12.5% is horrendous.

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen continued to look a little sluggish as he had two giveaways in the defensive zone and a failed clearing attempt. He also lost track of his man going to the front of the net twice, but neither instance resulted in anything harmful. He did earn an assist on a fantastic stretch pass to Stempniak for the second goal of the game at least. Overall though, I really think he would benefit from a day off like Maatta had.  He just looked a half step slow through most of the game.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Beau Bennett wasn’t as dominant as he was against Columbus but he still pushed the second line into the offensive zone repeatedly. He earned an assist on Crosby’s empty-netter and also helped out on Neal’s goal. Jussi Jokinen had another strong game at center and was dominant in the faceoff circle, going 8 for 10. Olli Maatta looked much better after a game off and had a very positive game with three forced turnovers.

Orpik Hit – After watching the hit repeatedly at several different angles, I have no problem saying it was a legal hit. The Department of Player Safety is not reviewing it either. One interesting aspect of the hit is whether it is “predatory”, which is not to say it’s dirty or illegal. Orpik sees Toews, stops taking any strides and glides towards him, but clearly has every intention of lighting him up during the whole play. Orpik then hits Toews just after he lets go of the puck. Toews is leaning forward/down a bit and still watching the puck as Orpik crushes him. Orpik also raises himself up into the hit, putting him in the air after impact is made. Basically, Orpik did everything by the textbook to keep that hit “legal” and it amounts to any type of hit over the middle of the ice where a player has his head down and gets crushed (with a body check he’s not ready for). That’s a normal part of the game; there’s a reason you hear “keep your head up” so frequently in hockey. The result, which was Toews being injured, makes the situation look much worse, but I’m okay with the legality of the hit. Now is it “predatory”? I would say yes, but within the rules of the game. Orpik isn’t the first and won’t be the last to line up a hit like that. How you feel about it morally is just personal opinion though; the league allows it, so I can’t fault anyone for it. One thing to note – the Blackhawks absolutely took over the game after the hit, despite what the scoreboard says.

Hit: Orpik on Toews - By @JustPuckIt

Hit: Orpik on Toews – By @JustPuckIt

Opportunistic Effort – While the shot totals remained even, the Blackhawks dominated a large portion of the game. They had much more offensive zone pressure and pinned the Penguins in their own zone for some very long shifts. The Penguins were incredibly opportunistic with their chances though. All four goals were scored in transition/on the rush (two 2-on-1s, a 1-on-1, and the empty netter). The scoreboard is incredibly misleading for how the game really went, but a team as talented as the Penguins should be opportunistic like they were. It was the polar opposite of dominating first periods and allowing the other team to score first like we saw frequently earlier in the season. However, in a seven game series, dominating losses are more likely to turn into wins and opportunistic wins are more likely to turn into losses. It was a great win, but the Penguins are still playing with fire.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Neal)
Robert Bortuzzo picks up a bouncing puck in the Penguins zone and passes it to Jussi Jokinen on his left as they both exit the zone. Jokinen looks up and sees James Neal with space at center ice after Neal and Brent Seabrook collided, with Seabrook going down. Jokinen passes the puck up to Neal, who enters the Blackhawks zone on a 2-on-1 with Beau Bennett on his right against Duncan Keith. Neal holds the puck and continuously glances at Bennett until Keith drops down to take away the passing lane. Then, Neal rips a wrist shot from just inside the left faceoff dot that beats Crawford’s glove.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Bortuzzo (9), Jokinen (56), Bennett (7), Neal (63)

Goal: Neal - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Neal – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Stempniak)
Lee Stempniak gets the puck at center ice after the Blackhawks denied a zone entry to the Penguins. He throws the puck back towards Matt Niskanen at the Penguins blue line, but the pass misses and ends up in the corner of the Penguins zone. Niskanen goes back to retrieve the puck and skates it back up to the Penguins blue line. He then makes a long pass through the neutral zone to Stempniak, who is entering the Blackhawks zone. Stempniak gets a step on Johnny Oduya on the zone entry, skates the puck down to the inside of the right faceoff dot, and takes a wrist shot that beats Crawford’s five hole.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Niskanen (54), Stempniak (9)

Goal: Stempniak - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Stempniak – By @JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (Brookbank)
As the Blackhawks control the puck in the Penguins zone on an extended shift, Brandon Saad retrieves a missed shot in the right corner and passes it up to Nick Leddy at the left point. Leddy passes the puck down to Patrick Sharp skating out of the left corner and Sharp moves up the boards before passing the puck to Sheldon Brookbank at the middle of the blue line. Brookbank continues to the left point and takes a slapshot that Fleury never sees due to a screen by Brooks Orpik and Andrew Shaw. The shot goes past Fleury’s glove before he even knows it’s coming.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Orpik (34)

Third Goal For (Crosby)
After the Blackhawks redirect the puck into the Penguins zone, Chris Kunitz quickly retrieves it along the left side boards and bounces it off the boards up to Sidney Crosby skating through the neutral zone. Crosby picks up the puck and enters the left side of the Blackhawks zone on a 2-on-1 with Lee Stempniak against Duncan Keith. Crosby stares at Stempniak as he skates through the zone until Keith drops to block the pass and then he turns his attention to Crawford. Crosby then beats Crawford’s glove with a wrist shot as he reaches the left faceoff dot.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Kunitz (91), Stempniak (10), Crosby (109)

Goal: Crosby - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Crosby – By @JustPuckIt

Fourth Goal For (Crosby)
After Patrick Sharp steals a puck from Olli Maatta behind the Penguins net, Sidney Crosby swoops in to chip the puck away from Sharp. Beau Bennett grabs the puck and loses it, but is followed by Maatta, who recovers the puck. Maatta passes the puck up to Crosby exiting the defensive zone on the left side. Crosby carries the puck to center ice and then slides the puck into Chicago’s empty net.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Bennett (8), Maatta (39), Crosby (110)

EN Goal: Crosby - By @JustPuckIt

EN Goal: Crosby – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Engelland (slashing): Bad-Stupid, follows Kris Versteeg up the boards in the defensive zone and gives him two extra shots after he moves the puck to earn a penalty.

Pens Record: 48-22-5
Next Game: Tuesday, 4/1 vs Carolina, 7pm

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