Thoughts: Game 78 – Pens blow another lead in 5-3 loss to Blue Jackets

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.

Blue Jackets 5  Pens 3

Record: 42-25-11

Crosby (27) from Hornqvist, Cole
Sutter (18) from Cole, Spaling
Lovejoy (2) from Comeau, Winnik

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 78 - Goals

Downie (goalie interference) – Stupid (skates towards the net and doesn’t try to alter his path as he goes directly into the back of Bobrovsky for a penalty)
Team (too many men) – Stupid (Adams jumps onto the ice when Crosby comes off despite a man already making that change, which gives the Pens 6 men on the ice as Comeau is still skating back to the bench)
Downie (holding) – Unnecessary (gets his left hand on Dano in the defensive zone, grabs his arm, and pulls him down to the ice for a penalty)

Two Forwards

Gm 78 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with seven shots on net, assisted on Crosby’s goal, drew a roughing penalty, had two offensive zone takeaways, and continued to crash the crease in every situation possible.
  • Bad: Had one giveaway in the offensive zone and lost the puck there once as well.
  • Overall: Hornqvist continues to stand out for his complete disregard for his own well-being in every game. He took all kinds of abuse in this game as he drew a minor penalty by getting punched in the face by Jack Johnson, took numerous cross-checks to the back in front of the net, and found his way into every puck battle that was within a 20-foot radius of him. He was rewarded once on the scoreboard, with an assist on Crosby’s goal that was a one-touch, two-foot pass from the goal line to Crosby in front. Aside from that, he didn’t get much help or luck for his efforts. For a team that has found itself playing the wrong way lately, Hornqvist is still doing everything in the best way that he can.
Hornqvist going to the net is the most dependable thing about this team. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Hornqvist going to the net is the most dependable thing about this team. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Blake Comeau
  • Good: Recorded three shots on net, had an offensive zone takeaway, broke up a play in the offensive zone, and assisted on Lovejoy’s goal after Tyutin literally handed the puck to him.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the defensive zone and had two missed defensive zone coverages near the net, both of which partially led to goals against.
  • Overall: Comeau had a quietly disappointing game in the defensive zone in a costly effort. He was partially at fault for the 2nd goal against when he lost track of Dano skating behind him to the crease and allowed a pass across the slot to get to Dano, which led to a chaotic sequence of events before Calvert’s goal. He was partially at fault for not covering Dano again on the 4th goal against, when he stood directly behind him and didn’t tie up his stick or defend him at all as Hartnell passed the puck to Dano from behind the goal line. Comeau has been very solid in the defensive zone this season, but he looked flat-footed and unaware of the Blue Jackets moving around the crease. He did contribute a little, getting a gift when Tyutin gloved the puck to him in the offensive zone so he could pass it back to Lovejoy, who scored on a slapshot. Aside from that though, it was a quiet performance and a disappointing one in the defensive zone, which the Penguins can’t afford as they continue along with the bottom half of their defense.

Four Defensemen

Gm 78 - Defense

Ian Cole
  • Good: Assisted on the first two Penguins goals, had two takeaways, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, forced a turnover, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away once in the offensive zone, lost track of two coverages in the defensive zone, and started to get caught pinching a little too much as the game progressed.
  • Overall: Cole continues to boost the offense, which has been unexpected and necessary given what the offense has done. He blocked off Dubinsky’s clearing attempt and then moved the puck to Hornqvist to set up the first goal for the Penguins. He then received the puck in the high slot from Sutter, moved it to his backhand, and made a perfect backhand pass back to Sutter for the second goal. After that, things got a little shaky for Cole as the entire team fell apart. He was caught too far up on two odd-man breaks, though he was lucky that neither resulted in a goal against. He still found a way to be the best defensemen for the Penguins against Columbus, but his newly-found confidence in moving up is something to watch as he’s needed in the defensive zone to help Pouliot.
Paul Martin
  • Good: Led the team with four blocked shots, had two defensive zone takeaways, intercepted three passes, and forced three defensive zone turnovers.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, lost a coverage in the defensive zone, failed to clear the puck once, and lost the puck twice, one of which partially led to the 4th goal against.
  • Overall: Martin had an average game, which probably ranks as below average for his expectations. He was around the puck a lot in the defensive end and it led to mixed results throughout the afternoon. His poke check was on point all game at least as he did a wonderful job of getting the puck off of the stick of opposing forwards. However, he also struggled at times with the puck and with making quick decisions, which was highlighted by the 4th goal against, when he had the puck in the defensive zone, tried to circle away from Wennberg into the corner, but circled directly into Wennberg, who stole the puck away to start the sequence. Martin seems to be wearing down a bit in this stretch run and certainly hasn’t been helped by changing linemates. This is the 4th straight game that I’ve marked him down for a goal against, which is another quiet part of the story of why the Penguins are struggling.
Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Blocked two shots and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away five times in the defensive zone and lost his coverage once.
  • Overall: It is rather amazing that Scuderi was not at fault for a goal against vs the Blue Jackets. He was terrible with the puck and it led to several extended shifts in the defensive zone. Instead of his usual inefficient clears up the boards that don’t get out of the zone, he was passing the puck up the middle as the Blue Jackets baited the entire defense to do so, which led to an abundance of giveaways. His decision-making and puck management has to be much better than that if the Penguins have any hope of finding consistent and dependable offense…or even getting out of the defensive zone.
Derrick Pouliot
  • Good: Had two pass interceptions and recorded two shots on net.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away once in the defensive zone, lost his coverage in the defensive zone three times, lost the puck twice, and was partially at fault for two goals against based on the aforementioned mistakes.
  • Overall: Plain and simple, Pouliot looked like a rookie defenseman against the Blue Jackets. He hesitated on many of his decisions, struggled with finding the easy options, and got lost several times in the defensive zone as Columbus was in constant motion. He was partially at fault for the 2nd goal against as he drifted too far away from the front of the net, which allowed Calvert to get a rebound and take a quick shot off the post, which rebounded back out to Calvert before he scored. Pouliot looked at his worst on the 3rd goal against, when he carried the puck into two opposing forwards in the neutral zone, lost the puck to them, and watched a 2-on-1 go the other way for a goal against. These growing pains are to be expected for Pouliot, and I noticed that Tocchet went to him after the 3rd goal against to help him shake it off, but they’re still costly nonetheless. Pouliot will likely bounce back to some degree, but it’s unfortunate that he’s forced into this position by injuries to begin with.
In an ideal world, Pouliot would get time off or get sheltered more. The world is not ideal. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

In an ideal world, Pouliot would get time off or get sheltered more. The world is not ideal. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Three Thoughts

Process Fails – Over the past month, the Penguins have lost plenty of games in frustrating fashion. There has been a noticeable shift from “playing the right way and losing” to “turning the puck over and imploding” though. Many losses last month had the Penguins dominating possession, dominating the shot totals, but not scoring first and not finding a way to come back. Recently, losses have turned into the Penguins are scoring first, getting careless with the puck and their coverages, and letting teams right back into the game on their way to a loss. Losing wears on a team no matter how the losses come about. I have my concerns that frustrating, but good-looking losses have paved the way for a team that plays consistently out of frustration, which has led to poor decisions, bad puck management, and sloppy losses.

Reasons for Losses – By the way, as everyone points fingers and tries to figure out what is wrong with the Penguins, the answer is just about everything. Aside from Hornqvist, every player has shown a flaw, or two, or ten in recent weeks. Injuries have hurt the team as they play without arguably their top three productive defensemen (Letang, Ehrhoff, Maatta) and losing Malkin has hurt in every way possible from offense to confidence. It’s not just injuries though. It’s careless mistakes by talented guys (Perron turnover for the first goal against). It’s badly timed penalties (Downie, all the time). It’s bad bounces (ask Kunitz about that, they do happen in hockey a lot). It’s no production from depth players (4th line, what do you do?). It’s a laundry list of other things. The Penguins aren’t as bad as they look and they aren’t as good as we thought in the early parts of this season. This team was built to handle some issues – maybe just injuries, or a bad string of bounces, or just a few bad penalties, but they’re not deep enough to handle all of them at once. The injury bug has to be fought off with smart and almost perfect hockey. The Penguins have not done that as a team or individuals. The reason Bylsma’s teams survived without Malkin and Crosby was because those teams dropped into a shell and played mistake-free hockey most of the time. Everything was kept simple and they got the job done. This team is playing far from mistake-free hockey (just look at the turnover numbers in the charts above). They’re losing talent to injuries, but they still want to play like the talent is there. It’s not. Playing it safe is necessary at all times.

Too many mistakes lead to this. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Too many mistakes lead to this. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Playoff Watch – The Penguins have a big game against Philadelphia on Sunday and Ottawa plays Toronto. Three points currently separate the two teams. Pittsburgh then plays in Ottawa on Tuesday. The numbers and matchups still favor the Penguins making the playoffs, but there is definitely a race right now that also includes Detroit and Boston as these four teams fight for three spots.

Next Game: 4/5 @ Phi, 12:30pm

Thanks for reading!