Thoughts: Game 78 – Wild 4 Pens 0

Wild 4  Pens 0

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)


Neal argues with Cooke about whether his linemates are AHL or ECHL quality. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

Neal argues with Cooke about whether his linemates are AHL or ECHL quality. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

Shots: Neal (5)
Missed Shots: Crosby, Niskanen, Pyatt (2)
Blocked Shots: Bortuzzo, Despres, Scuderi (2)
Hits: Glass (4)
Ice Time: Martin (23:09) … Megna (11:01)
Faceoffs: Sutter (9/17) … Crosby (5/17)
CF% Rel: Sutter (+30.9%) … Glass (-28.9%)

Quick Summary
Good: None
Noteworthy: Scuderi, Martin, Crosby
Bad: Gibbons, Stempniak, Despres, Bortuzzo, Zatkoff
Other Players: Glass, Orpik
Misc Thoughts: Preseason Attitude, Scheduling Flaws, “Flipping a Switch”, Odd Decisions
1st GA: Bortuzzo, Zatkoff
2nd GA: Stempniak
3rd GA: Martin, Zatkoff
4th GA: Despres, Niskanen, Crosby
Stempniak (hooking; Bad)
Bortuzzo (hooking; Bad)

Player Assessment




Rob Scuderi – Scuderi had a decent game and probably looked a little better than he should have because the team around him wasn’t very interested in playing hockey by comparison. He forced two turnovers in the defensive zone with poke checks and also made a great diving poke check to recover on a play, which means he was beat on the play originally of course. With only one failed clearing attempt on the night, it was a decent effort from Scuderi.

Martin should probably be Brooks Orpik's agent. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

Martin should probably be Brooks Orpik’s agent. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

Paul Martin – Martin was excited about playing in Minnesota before the game but I don’t think he will like the memories. He was average at best as he forced two turnovers (one offensive zone, one defensive zone) and also gave the puck away twice in the defensive zone. He was also partially at fault for the third goal against when he turned the puck over along the boards in the defensive zone. He still deserves credit for one major fact though: Orpik continues to look much better next to him.

Sidney Crosby – On some shifts, Crosby looked like he was playing for his life. On other shifts, Crosby looked like he pondering the meaning of life. It was a very inconsistent game for Sid, but that was still more than most of the team provided. He drew a slashing penalty, earned two takeaways in the offensive zone, and also intercepted a pass in the defensive zone. On the other hand, he had two failed clears, two offensive zone turnovers, and was partially at fault for the 4th goal against as he opted to do absolutely nothing and cover no one in the crease/slot area. His 5-for-17 faceoff performance certainly didn’t help anyone either. Just stay healthy.

The Hobbit: Games of Disinterest (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

The Hobbit: Games of Disinterest (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

Brian Gibbons – Gibbons was a turnover machine against Minnesota. Instead of just mishandling the puck like he often does, he was passing it tape-to-tape for Wild players. He had two giveaways in the neutral zone, a turnover in the offensive zone, and two failed clears on the penalty kill that went straight to defensemen at the points. He may have been pressing a bit since the team was down early, but all of his good hockey sense disappeared as soon as that started.

Lee Stempniak – Stempniak played his second straight game on the 3rd line and his effectiveness is falling apart without Crosby (which would happen to anyone, really). He did manage one offensive zone pass interception, but the rest of his game included a hooking penalty, neutral zone turnover, failed clearing attempt, and blowing his coverage/partially disturbing Zatkoff on the second goal against. It doesn’t help that his linemates keep changing and Andrew Ebbett was his center in this game, but he needs to manage the puck much more efficiently if he’s playing with worse linemates.

Simon Despres – Despres took his opportunity to return to the lineup and lit it on fire in front of the coaching staff. With Olli Maatta out, Despres had the chance to play with Matt Niskanen, who was even capable of hiding Rob Scuderi earlier in the season. Despres was rather awful though. He had three defensive zone giveaways, a failed clearing attempt, and was partially at fault on the 4th goal against as he threw himself into a hit at the defensive blue line that missed. The missed hit resulted in Niskanen trying to cover for him and missing on that opportunity, which eventually led to the goal against. The only good thing I saw from Despres was strong crease coverage twice, but the turnovers were enough to make anyone question what went wrong with him.

Yes, you missed that one too. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

Yes, you missed that one too. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

Jeff Zatkoff – Zatkoff started his rookie season with an awful game against Florida long, long ago. After several impressive performances since then, he found the form he had in his debut back in October. He made 16 saves on 20 shots, which doesn’t fully tell the tale of how preventable at least two of those goals were. On the first goal against, Zatkoff had the opportunity to dive out to play a loose puck (like Fleury might) or at least get to the top of the crease to cut off the angles (like any goalie might). Instead, he stayed deep in his crease as the puck was swatted over him and into the net. On the third goal against, it was another puck that was swatted from the slot that gave Zatkoff trouble. He just whiffed with his glove and only partially hit the puck, knocking it down to the ice and into the net. It was the rare game where the team didn’t show up and neither did the goaltender.

Robert Bortuzzo – Finally on the bad side, Robert Bortuzzo had another bad game and looked weak on the puck again. He was knocked off of the puck in the slot on the first goal against as he lost his balance and allowed Haula to get to a puck that the Penguins should have retrieved. He also had two failed clears, was knocked off of another puck in the defensive zone, and took a hooking penalty after turning the puck over. The 6th defenseman rotation until Letang returns is going to be a messy one.

Dana fixes a loose screw - By @JustPuckIt

Dana fixes a loose screw – By @JustPuckIt

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Tanner Glass has been lauded (mostly by the broadcast crew) for his big hits lately. Most of those hits are occurring in the offensive zone, after a defenseman has played the puck away, leaving Glass out of the play completely. He isn’t doing much that actually changes a hockey game right now. Brooks Orpik had another good game and looks like a completely different hockey player with Paul Martin back. It was another quiet game where he had solid positioning and was mostly invisible because he did his job.

Preseason Attitude – While the game was frustrating to watch, I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The final five games (now four left) are basically like a preseason schedule, especially with players sitting out for minor injuries (I bet Maatta could play if it was the playoffs). Five games doesn’t sound like a lot numerically, and a week and a half doesn’t sound like a lot before the playoffs either, but in reality it is a significant amount of meaningless games when the Penguins are firmly placed into the 2nd seed. It is rare to see that many meaningless games in a season. For that reason, I expected this weekend to be two ugly games (Minnesota and Colorado need the wins more), Detroit and Philadelphia to be very competitive/playoff ramp-up type games due to the opponents, and Ottawa to be a dress rehearsal seeking perfection going into the playoffs. The Colorado game tonight might turn into a spirited affair just because the Penguins feel embarrassed and want some pride back from last night. The Ottawa game at the end might turn into a throwaway game depending on how injuries are going. Regardless of how it pans out, there was a 0% chance of seeing five games at 100% effort. Human nature goes against it, even for professionals of any kind.

One team cares enough to throw themselves over their bench...the other does not. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

One team cares enough to throw themselves over their bench…the other does not. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo)

Scheduling Flaws – One of the reasons that this weekend had such a high potential to be ugly is because of the East/West games that make little sense for the final weeks before the playoffs. Not only do the Penguins have nothing to play for, but they certainly don’t care about playing spoilers for any team in the West that they have no connection to either. With very little familiarity between the two teams and a vast difference in desperation, the West teams are lucky to have the Penguins on the schedule and the Penguins don’t care either way. The real losers are the teams battling for playoff spots with Minnesota and Colorado and the Pens fans that are looking for good games going into the playoffs. Yes, you are a loser in this scenario.

“Flipping a Switch” – Everyone wants to talk about the Penguins’ ability to “flip a switch” going into the playoffs and many complaints I received during the Minnesota game were about that concept. My counter: the “flipping a switch” idea concerns me if the Penguins don’t care for their last five games and then try to do it for Game 1 of the playoffs. I do not expect that attitude though. Just like if this was preseason, I expect the attitude and effort to increase gradually over the next 10 days heading into the playoffs. The matchups allow for it nicely as well with likely first round opponent Detroit on Wednesday and hated rival Philadelphia on Saturday. I will be extremely concerned about the team’s attitude if Wednesday and Saturday turn into effortless flops, but the games this weekend don’t faze me. Let’s wait and see if they try to take the “flipping a switch” approach before giving it too much credence right now.

Odd Decisions – Away from team mentality and back to the game…I expect countless line combinations and random decisions since the coaching staff has the leeway to tinker with everything looking for chemistry and playoff sparks. However, I do not expect and/or want to see Sidney Crosby playing the penalty kill in the 3rd period during a 4-0 deficit. Crosby is the type of player that is going to try to block shots in such a scenario. He has no business doing that in a meaningless game. The staff was just flirting with a monumental disaster by playing Crosby on a minute-long shift on the PK in the 3rd (playing him in general is another long topic on its own). Another odd decision was to limit Jayson Megna’s minutes to a team-least 11:01. Leaving him on the bench in a meaningless game was a missed opportunity to see how well he could work with other players and how well he could earn a lineup spot for the playoffs. Not trusting young players is one thing, but wasting them when trust doesn’t even matter in a game? The rest of the schedule is meaningless, but Detroit and Philly are good tests going into the playoffs. This weekend’s games are truly throwaways and these are the best times to try out younger players and role players in different ways. We should have seen more of it against Minnesota.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Haula)
Eric Haula retrieves a puck behind his own net and bounces it off of the boards up to Jason Pominville just inside Minnesota’s zone. Pominville is quickly pressured and moves the puck to Matt Moulson in the neutral zone as Haula continues to gain speed and exits the zone to catch up to Moulson. Haula passes Moulson at center ice as they approach the Penguins zone 2-on-2 against Rob Scuderi and Robert Bortuzzo. Moulson decides to flip the puck up over Bortuzzo into the Penguins zone and it bounces into the slot area. Haula uses his speed to start passing Bortuzzo, who attempts to hit Haula but loses his balance instead. With Bortuzzo falling to the ice, Haula gets to the bouncing puck in the slot first and just whacks it past the blocker of Zatkoff, who hesitantly stayed deep in his crease instead of attempting to play the puck or even challenge a potential shot.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Bortuzzo (19), Zatkoff (8)

Second Goal Against (Koivu)
Ryan Suter takes the puck behind his own net and passes it around the boards for Charlie Coyle. Coyle can’t take the pass, but he redirects the puck with his skate so it goes toward Zach Parise at their blue line. Parise overskates the puck, allowing Lee Stempniak to pick it up on the backcheck in the neutral zone. Mikko Koivu follows Stempniak though and poke checks the puck away from him up to Parise entering the right side of the Penguins zone. Koivu then speeds up past Stempniak, forcing defenseman Paul Martin to hesitate and treat the situation like a 2-on-1. Koivu skates straight to the top of the crease and Stempniak follows him while Parise cuts to the middle of the ice with the puck in their wake. Martin moves laterally to keep up with Parise, but has no chance to step up on him before he takes a shot with Koivu and Stempniak in front of Zatkoff. The puck goes past Zatkoff’s glove into the net as he can’t see clearly through the screen.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Stempniak (1)

Third Goal Against (Veilleux)
Stephane Veilleux gets the puck in the neutral zone and chips it into the Penguins zone. Brooks Orpik skates back for the puck and reaches it first along the backboards on the left side. Orpik passes the puck through the left corner for Paul Martin. Martin attempts to pass the puck up the boards, but passes it directly to Cody McCormick a couple of feet away from him. McCormick quickly throws the puck towards the slot, where Veilleux went to after seeing the turnover. The puck bounces in front of Veilleux and he swats at the puck, which is partially blocked by Orpik, who stayed with him the whole time. The shot still has enough on it to float towards the net, where Jeff Zatkoff misjudges it with his glove and knocks it down into the net.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Martin (20), Zatkoff (9)

Fourth Goal Against (McCormick)
Jared Spurgeon chases down a puck in Minnesota’s zone and whips it off of the boards back to the neutral zone for Charlie Coyle. Coyle crosses the blue line into the Penguins zone and taps the puck up the boards as he avoids a hit from Simon Despres at the blue line. The puck doesn’t move far down the boards and Coyle reaches forward to poke it away from Matt Niskanen, who stepped up to try and play the puck as Zach Parise skated past him deeper into the zone. The puck slides down to the right corner for Parise, who is uncovered and has time with the puck. Parise holds the puck and skates towards the net. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby skates into the slot ahead of Cody McCormick, presumably to cover the slot area. Crosby goes to the top of the crease though and McCormick stops behind him, opening up a passing lane for Parise. Parise makes the pass to McCormick in the slot and McCormick one-times it past Zatkoff’s glove.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Despres (11), Niskanen (33), Crosby (20)

Penalty Assessment

Stempniak (hooking): Bad, lifts the stick of Jason Pominville going to the net in the Penguins zone and gets his stick into Pominville’s hands just enough for a hooking penalty.
Bortuzzo (hooking): Bad, turns the puck over at the defensive blue line and then has to hook Zach Parise to prevent him from getting an open lane to the net.

Pens Record: 49-24-5
Next Game: Sunday, 4/6 @ Colorado, 8pm

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