Thoughts: Game 76 – Pens band together to survive in 3-2 (SO) win over Sharks

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  Sharks 2 (SO)

Record: 42-23-11

Hornqvist (24) from Winnik, Cole
Kunitz (17) (PP) from Crosby, Pouliot
SO Goals: Perron, Crosby

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 76 - Goals

Lapierre (hooking) – Unnecessary (follows Pavelski getting the puck in the Penguins zone and gets his stick parallel into Pavelski’s midsection trying to slow him down, earning the hooking penalty)
Lovejoy (cross-checking) – Overly aggressive (cross-checks Tierney in the back as everyone is digging for a puck next to the Penguins net)
Crosby (tripping) – Careless (loses a puck in the offensive zone and keeps his stick right in front of Burns to take Burns down going for the puck)
Spaling (holding) – Unnecessary (wraps his left arm around Tierney in the offensive zone as they battle for a puck and pulls Tierney down for a penalty)
Hornqvist (high-sticking – 4 min) – Careless (loses the puck as he’s trying to carry it out of the defensive zone, then turns and high-sticks Burns as he battles to get the puck back)

Three Forwards

Gm 76 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with six shots, scored the first goal of the game on a rebound, blocked a shot, had a defensive zone takeaway and forced turnover, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, lost two pucks, and took a double-minor for high-sticking in overtime.
  • Overall: Hornqvist was not without his faults against the Sharks, but it’s hard to say that anyone works harder than he does in the offensive zone. He was a menace around the crease again and he read Winnik perfectly for the first goal when he moved into the slot as Winnik got the puck behind the net so Winnik had an open lane to him. Hornqvist was defended well on the initial shot, but he got to the rebound when it came back out to the slot and he backhanded it into the net before anyone could react to stop him. Anytime there is a potential puck battle in the offensive zone, there’s a strong chance Hornqvist will win that battle. While he was solid as usual in the offensive zone, he was also noticeable in the defensive zone in both good and bad ways. He did a great job of creating turnovers (three), but he also had two of his own in the defensive zone, one of which led to his double-minor for high-sticking in overtime. The PK bailed him out in this game, but he certainly has to be careful when he’s getting into those physical battles that he is always in.
Hornqvist is undoubtedly playoff-ready right now. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hornqvist is undoubtedly playoff-ready right now. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Steve Downie
  • Good: Broke up two plays in the defensive zone, recorded two shots, blocked a shot, intercepted two passes, and had an offensive zone takeaway.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the offensive zone.
  • Overall: Against Arizona, I praised Downie for his big moments (goal, fight) and was disappointed with his overall puck management. He had no big moments in this game, but his puck management and tenacious pursuit were exemplary. Downie did a wonderful job of hounding the puck carrier in all three zones throughout the night without crossing the line for any sort of penalty. Though he only played 11:12 due to the crowded forward group, he was one of the most efficient forwards at disrupting everything San Jose tried to do.
Daniel Winnik
  • Good: Set up Hornqvist for the first goal of the game, recorded two shots, blocked two shots, had an offensive zone pass interception, broke up a play in the defensive zone, and played 7:21 on the penalty kill, including a significant amount of 4-on-3 time in overtime.
  • Bad: Turned the puck over three times in the neutral zone, had a failed clearing attempt, and lost his coverage on the penalty kill going back into the defensive zone, which was partially the reason for Couture’s game-tying goal.
  • Overall: Similar to Downie’s game against Arizona, Winnik had a couple of huge moments in this game that propelled him past a subpar overall performance to even him out against San Jose. His night will be best remembered for spinning to make a backhand pass to Hornqvist in the slot for the first goal of the game and dropping all over the ice in overtime to ensure that San Jose couldn’t get the shooting and passing lanes they wanted on the successful 4-on-3 penalty kill. However, Winnik was partially at fault for the goal against the PK earlier in the game. With all of the Penguins standing on the blue line, both Martin and Winnik were caught flat-footed as Marleau and Couture skated past them into the Penguins zone, which left Couture with an open lane to the net. Winnik realized what was happening as Couture picked up speed through the neutral zone, but it was too late by that point and he had no chance of keeping up with his coverage. Winnik had a poor night with puck management overall as well. He often struggled to move it through the neutral zone as San Jose stepped up on him before he crossed center ice to give him trouble. In the end though, he evened himself out on goal contributions and the same can be said about his PK contributions with his fantastic effort in overtime.

Three Defensemen

Gm 76 - Defense

Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Broke up three plays, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, had a defensive zone takeaway, and played 25:36 overall, which included 7:12 of PK time.
  • Bad: Had one giveaway in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Scuderi’s total ice time is a scary thought given how he has played recently, but he did a great job of playing everything safe in all scenarios in the defensive end. He also did a great job of reading San Jose’s stretch pass as the Sharks continually tried to push a tired Penguins’ defense. That led to two of his break-ups in the neutral zone as he stepped up on those passes perfectly. The highlight of his game was definitely his penalty kill work though, especially in overtime as he joined the three-man unit in an inspirational effort. If there is one thing Scuderi excels at, it’s dropping down to the ice around the crease to block passing lanes and low shots. He did a wonderful job of it during the 4-on-3 as the Sharks still tried to move the puck through him. He was also very strong in boxing out guys to play rebounds out of the slot area. Scuderi certainly has his faults at this point in his career, but I would never bet against him for a clutch three-man kill.
Paul Martin
  • Good: Led the team with five blocked shots, intercepted three passes, and broke up four plays.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the defensive zone, had a defensive zone giveaway, and lost his coverage on the penalty kill, which partially led to Couture’s game-tying goal.
  • Overall: Martin played a surprisingly “low” 27:25 compared to what was expected since some of the other defensemen saw significant increases in their playing time. He was the anchor for all of them though as the group rotated throughout the night. While most of the group appeared to tire out as the game went on, Martin looked strong from start to finish and ended the game with a great effort on the 4-on-3 PK in overtime. Most of his pass interceptions and broken-up plays occurred in the 3rd period and overtime as the Penguins managed to hold off San Jose. The only major mark against him was on the aforementioned Couture goal, when Martin got caught flat-footed as Marleau skated past him into the zone with the puck and fed it to Couture with an open lane to the net. Even with that mistake, it was a solid game for Martin.
Ian Cole
  • Good: Recorded the secondary assist on Hornqvist’s goal, blocked three shots, had two defensive zone takeaways, and intercepted two passes.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, lost the puck in the offensive zone, and had a failed clearing attempt.
  • Overall: Cole played 25:05, which is almost ten minutes more than his average coming into this game. He started the game very strong with a nice pinch in the offensive zone that moved the puck deep into the zone for Hornqvist and eventually led to Hornqvist’s goal. He certainly played with an edge against San Jose as he was trash-talking players after every whistle and appeared to have a history with everyone. As the game progressed though, Cole clearly wore down. All of his turnovers occurred in the second half of the game after most of his positive plays happened in the first half. Despite the fact that he clearly slowed down, he still did a good job of staying with his coverages and he adjusted by staying back a little more. It was yet another good sign that Cole can handle a difficult situation when necessary as the team approaches the playoffs.
Several guys stepped up this weekend when the team needed it the most. (Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Several guys stepped up this weekend when the team needed it the most. (Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Three Thoughts

Five Defensemen – The Penguins will be living in a world of five defensemen for the foreseeable future with Ehrhoff and Letang out indefinitely. Here are the ice times for this game: Lovejoy – 27:44, Martin: 27:25, Scuderi – 25:36, Cole – 25:05, Pouliot – 18:21. The significant amount of shorthanded time dictated some of that (Pouliot being that low), but I was surprised that Martin didn’t see over 30 minutes. Whether it was for the sake of rationing minutes in back-to-back situations or because the rest of the defense has been deemed trustworthy, the time allotment worked out. The Penguins have a light schedule this week with only Philadelphia on Wednesday until back-to-backs again over the weekend. With this group of five all being able to handle 20+ minutes, this isn’t an entirely unreasonable scenario as long as the coaching staff closely monitors the back-to-back games. This is also a great way to test the defense before the playoffs to see who is going to be trustworthy in a playoff overtime situation when everyone is exhausted. Playing five defensemen may just look worse than it actually is.

Gut-check Weekend – On the intangible side of things, it was impossible to overlook the amount of “heart” shown by the Penguins this weekend. For months, the team has appeared to be a little too nonchalant in every game situation – winning, losing, penalty kill, powerplay, it didn’t matter. That was not the case this weekend. Despite giving up the first goal against the Coyotes in the 3rd period on Saturday, the Penguins upped their intensity, went to the net harder, and kept crashing the crease on their way to a 3-2 win. Then against San Jose, they took a two-goal lead in the first period, blew that lead in the 2nd period, but never let up in their fight to win. The defense looked exhausted starting in the 2nd period but there was no quit in the group. Then the PK went to work late in the 3rd period and again in overtime with Winnik, Lapierre, Martin, Scuderi, and Adams all doing a wonderful job of sacrificing their bodies as they did absolutely everything possible to kill the penalty to Hornqvist. It’s a very cliché thing to say, which I often try to avoid, but this team looked like a team that was playing together and for each other this weekend. This weekend was almost a trust-building exercise, from Downie sanely “defending” Letang to the PK bailing out the hard-working Hornqvist. Will it last beyond this weekend? Who knows – Philadelphia always brings up issues. Either way, it was a very promising weekend with the playoffs just over two weeks away.

Even Kunitz found his way back to the scoreboard this weekend. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Even Kunitz found his way back to the scoreboard this weekend. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Special Teams – The powerplay went 3-for-8 this weekend and the penalty kill went 7-for-8. In general, those success rates will certainly help the Penguins squeeze out more wins. The powerplay looks much more dynamic with Pouliot moving absolutely everywhere on the ice. His vision and ability to make the pass to Crosby for Kunitz’s goal was outstanding. Hopefully Kunitz has exorcised his demons as well with his long-awaited goal. Meanwhile, the PK did allow a goal against San Jose but has generally looked strong. Winnik, Lapierre, and even Adams have all done a wonderful job of getting the puck to the offensive zone and killing time there recently. I thought it was interesting to note that Winnik and Lapierre dominated the 4-on-3 time against San Jose, possibly making them more valuable acquisitions than originally perceived. Another note – Sutter only had 2:31 on the PK, compared to Winnik at 7:21, Adams at 5:18, and Lapierre at 4:22.

Even though Arizona and San Jose are not playoff teams, everyone (coaches, players, fans, etc) should be feeling a bit more confident after this weekend.  There is still work to be done though.

Next Game: 4/1 vs Phi, 8pm