Thoughts: Game 77 – Pens lack talent, energy, effort in 4-1 loss to Flyers

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.

Flyers 4  Pens 1

Record: 42-24-11

Crosby (26) from Hornqvist, Cole

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 77 - Goals

Spaling (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (cross-checks VandeVelde in the back twice as the puck is against the boards and the second one sends him down to the ice for a penalty)
Sutter (delay of game) – Careless (lifts the puck over the glass from the defensive zone for a delay of game penalty)
Downie (roughing) – Stupid (shoves Raffl in the back of the head in retaliation after getting hit into the boards, so he ends up with a minor penalty)
Perron (interference) – Unnecessary (gets his stick around Bellemare’s waist and knocks him over in the neutral zone away from the puck for a penalty)
Downie (tripping) – Bad Call (reaches for a puck in the neutral zone in front of Schenn and Schenn gets his feet tangled up with Cole so he falls forward, but Downie gets called for tripping)
Kunitz (slashing) – Inconsequential (slashes Rinaldo in the back of the leg as he’s skating away, but Rinaldo gets called for embellishment to even it out)

Three Forwards

Gm 77 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Assisted on Crosby’s goal by winning a puck battle on the crease, had an offensive zone takeaway, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, forced three turnovers, and broke up a play in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: If “compete level” is your thing, look no further than Hornqvist on any given night. Yet again, his effort led the team as he crashed the crease, won battles along the boards, and hounded the Flyers for the puck on every single shift. His play on Crosby’s goal was simple, yet masterful, as he skated directly to the front of the net after the faceoff, knocked Nick Schultz aside to get a puck at his skates, and moved it right into a lane that Crosby was skating into. I’ll keep saying it – Hornqvist is built for playoff hockey…and he’s the only one attempting to play it regularly right now.
Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Led the team with five shots on net and scored the only goal for the Penguins as he got to a loose puck at the edge of the crease from Hornqvist.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the neutral zone.
  • Overall: Crosby was very quiet in the puck management area of the game (I must note, the official stats have him marked down for four giveaways, which baffles me completely). Don’t mistake quiet for a bad thing though. Crosby often received the puck, motored around the offensive zone, and got the puck to the net as efficiently as he could. He looked very strong on his skates as the first line had some dominant shifts in the offensive zone, though they couldn’t capitalize on it aside from that first goal. In general, the first line looked like the only competent line and Hornqvist/Crosby/Winnik looked like the best players by far. That’s great for Crosby and the first line as they continue to do their job, but it’s never going to look like enough unless the rest of the team joins in.
Crosby scored goal #300, then looked for Geno, then Letang, then probably sobbed. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Crosby scored goal #300, then looked for Geno, then Letang, then probably sobbed. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

David Perron
  • Good: Recorded three shots on net and a neutral zone pass interception.
  • Bad: Took an unnecessary penalty in the neutral zone and lost his defensive coverage on a backcheck, which allowed Schenn to score the 2nd goal of the game/eventual game-winner.
  • Overall: Perron’s performances have been shaky for a few weeks now, but this one looked even worse with another penalty and a goal against on his ledger. His penalties have largely been of the obstruction variety and often in situations where he could literally do nothing and it would accomplish the same result. As for the goal against, the Penguins had a very odd, tight 3-on-3 formation to defend and Perron was the backchecking forward. He stayed with the play but drifted a little too far as he watched the puck on Couturier’s stick, which left him just far enough away from Schenn that he fanned on a loose puck and Schenn promptly picked it up to score. Not producing + unnecessary penalty + failed defense = plenty of red for Perron lately.

Three Defensemen

Gm 77 - Defense

Ian Cole
  • Good: Assisted on Crosby’s goal by shooting the puck to the net off of the faceoff, drew a penalty, forced two turnovers, broke up a play in the neutral zone, and intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away in the neutral zone and lost track of his coverage once in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Cole played 23:52, 3rd among the defensemen, in another strong all-around effort. He isn’t being trusted heavily in special teams situations yet (3:04 on PK, 1:06 on PP), but he is earning his time in 5-on-5 play as he continues to look strong positionally and just play simple hockey. Against the Flyers, he demonstrated the ability to stay calm under a two-man forecheck as he threaded the needle between the forecheckers twice to get the Penguins out of the defensive zone. Cole has not looked spectacular by any means, but he has taken the easy/available play most of the time, which is turning him into quite a trustworthy defenseman right now.
Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Tied for the team-lead with three blocked shots, had two takeaways, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, forced two turnovers, and broke up three plays in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the defensive zone and lost track of his coverage once as well.
  • Overall: Admittedly, several of Scuderi’s good plays required multiple viewings for me because I was sure it couldn’t be him making the play (offensive zone takeaway?!). That being said, seeing much more Scuderi hasn’t been the worst thing in the world for the Penguins so far. He played 25:47, including 6:46 of penalty kill time, and looked fairly solid in the defensive zone. He still has plenty of issues moving the puck forward and he’s never going to start a beautiful breakout, but his defensive work has been strong in the last two games with elevated ice time. He’s at least doing his job as best as he can, even if everyone isn’t helping (see: Schenn goal when Scuderi pokes the puck away from Manning but Perron doesn’t cover Schenn well enough behind Manning).
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Tied for the team-lead with three blocked shots, intercepted two passes, forced a defensive zone turnover, and broke up two plays.
  • Bad: Had two failed clearing attempts, a giveaway, a lost puck, and three lost coverages in the defensive zone, one of which partially led to Schenn’s redirect goal against the penalty kill.
  • Overall: Lovejoy has been increasingly underwhelming since the trade deadline and his increased ice time did nothing to help that fact. He led the team with 27:02 of ice time despite appearing to tire out as the 2nd period wore on. As fatigue set in, it was clear Lovejoy was in over his head and the lost coverages/mistakes started to pile up after a decent start to the game. He lost coverages by way of tripping over the back of the net, simply losing a step on the guy he was following, and by not being aware of his surrounding/keeping his stick out to defend the players around him. The last one is what cost the Penguins a powerplay goal against, as Lovejoy had two players behind him on the crease but was holding his stick in the air out in front of him instead of defending the passing lane to either player. With how Lovejoy was facing and holding his stick, he was defending no one despite being right in front of Schenn. The Flyers made a very nice read on the play, but there is no good excuse for not vigilantly defending on the PK in the first minute of the 3rd period in a one-goal game. Lovejoy seemed like a decent addition as a 4th/5th defenseman, but this team will be in serious trouble with him playing top defenseman minutes.
Who loses Zac Rinaldo?! (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Who loses Zac Rinaldo?! (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Three Thoughts

Roster Situation and Defense – With Malkin sitting out the game against Philadelphia, the Penguins are now eligible to use their emergency recall for Saturday, assuming Malkin sits out on Saturday as well. Johnston said he only expects Malkin to be out 2-4 days, so it will be interesting to see what the Penguins decide to do with him this weekend and how that changes the recall. It appears that Chorney would be the man called up based on his unexpected healthy scratch in WBS on Wednesday night.

Playing with five defensemen is certainly an issue since most of these guys are not ready and/or capable for the minutes they are being given. Lovejoy’s performance is discussed above. Another issue – look at the five guys remaining based on my goal assessments for the season so far:

Current Defense - Gm 77

Paul Martin is a solid defenseman, but he doesn’t create as much from the blue line as is often suggested. As a whole, it’s hopeful to think that the group can manage to pull off an even rating on the night. The trickledown is that these defensemen can’t get the puck to the forwards or the forwards have to come deeper in the zone to help with the puck, which makes it easier for opponents to set up in the neutral zone or on their own blue line to defend the Penguins. This entire team and system is built from a foundation of smart and capable puck movers on defense. Without Letang, Ehrhoff, and Maatta, there are simply not enough of those guys to support the system. There is no magical fix for this; the team is going to be inconsistent without these guys no matter how many defensemen are playing.

PS – Lovejoy’s numbers are alarming in just 15 games.

Effort? – The most disturbing thing about the Flyers game was not the loss (process!!!), but the fact that all of the players called out their own effort after the game. Crosby said the team was awful. Kunitz had an interesting quote (I couldn’t have made this quote more relevant if I gave him the words myself):

Why am I gushing over this? Here is part of a paragraph I wrote in my San Jose thoughts post:

“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.”

No, apparently it won’t last past the weekend. The only part of this game that truly bothered me is that every good feeling from the weekend was unceremoniously thrown out. The team had a chance to build on a successful weekend and they lost to a non-playoff team that is also dealing with injuries (Simmonds is no Malkin, but he is very good against the Penguins. Their injuries count too, where are their excuses?). For all of the reasons that the Penguins could lose – injuries, five defensemen, discipline, etc – effort against the Flyers should never have been a necessary talking point after the game. That is definitely a red flag, even if the game means nothing in the standings. That’s a process fail.

Things to Ponder

  • Don’t take this the wrong way, I am not comparing Bylsma and Johnston, but the injury excuse strikes me as a little flimsy when Bylsma did find a way to win in the regular season with his teams that lacked Crosby or Malkin and sometimes both. We were all convinced Dustin Jeffrey was a legitimate NHLer at one point. Why does this team seem to completely lack that rallying ability?
  • The struggle for goals has been in play for a while now, but the forwards have to help out on defense better if they aren’t going to score. With five defensemen, all of whom looked exhausted by the third period, every single forward needs to backcheck hard and help bail guys out in the defensive zone. This team needs to consider taking a 1-0 win mentality when they have a less-than-optimal roster. Their ability to defend leads has been terrible lately and that’s on the entire team.
  • The penalty kill ice times for the forwards were interesting: Most notably: Lapierre at 7:16, Winnik at 7:03, and Sutter at 0:52. Winnik led the forwards in ice time because of the heavy PK workload. Sutter certainly appears to be getting phased out a bit.
  • Just a word about the suddenly common idea that “The Penguins have been great in the regular season and done poorly in the playoffs before, so maybe this is what they need” – that doesn’t mean the opposite works. That just means the Pens underachieved. Teams don’t tend to do well in the playoffs when they back in, which an oddly high amount of playoff teams are currently doing. We’ve seen switches get flipped in January and February. That doesn’t often happen in the middle of April unless you get to play the Sharks.
  • As always – the Pens aren’t as bad as they looked, they’re not as good as any of us want them to be, and expectations should be set accordingly.

Next Game: 4/4 @ Cls, 2pm

Thanks for reading!