Thoughts: Game 79 – Pens 3 Avalanche 2 (SO)

Pens 3  Avalanche 2 (SO)

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Sutter (12) from Glass, Niskanen
Sutter (13) (PP) from Jokinen, Neal
SO Winner: Jokinen

The Penguins have three #1 centers? What? (Chris Schneider/AP Photo)

The Penguins have three #1 centers? What? (Chris Schneider/AP Photo)

Shots: Ebbett (4)
Missed Shots: Neal (4)
Blocked Shots: Ebbett (4)
Hits: Glass (5)
Ice Time: Martin (27:36) … Megna (6:52)
Faceoffs: Ebbett (5/10) … Sutter (10/29)
CF% Rel: Niskanen (+25.2%) … Bortuzzo (-25.3%)

Quick Summary
Good: Fleury, Sutter, Neal
Noteworthy: Martin, Scuderi, Jokinen
Bad: Bortuzzo
Other Players: Pyatt, Engelland, Ebbett
Misc Thoughts: Injuries, Ice Time, Winning without Talent
1st GF: Glass, Stempniak, Sutter
2nd GF: Niskanen, Martin, Neal, Jokinen, Sutter
1st GA: Martin, Bortuzzo
2nd GA: Scuderi, Stempniak, Niskanen
Megna (kneeing; Bad-Stupid)
Engelland (delay of game; Bad-Careless)
Gibbons (hooking; Bad-Lazy)
Payerl (high-sticking; Bad-Careless)
Martin (delay of game; Bad)

Player Assessment

Fleury and all Pens fans were smiling after his performance in Colorado. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Fleury and all Pens fans were smiling after his performance in Colorado. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury basically put his hybrid NHL/AHL team on his back in the first period as the Penguins were outshot 15-8 early on. He went on to finish with 39 saves on 41 shots and 3 saves on 3 shots in the shootout to get the Penguins the victory. Fleury faced several tough shots throughout the night and looked especially dazzling on the penalty kill. He stopped two shots from the slot that came from turnovers and also broke up two passes on the crease during the penalty kill. As for the goals he let up, he had no chance to stop either one. The first one was a one-timer from just above the crease that was poorly defended. The second one was deflected and then hit off of Niskanen’s pants before going into the net. If Fleury can play at this caliber in the playoffs, the Penguins will be a tough out no matter who they play.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter took over the #1 center role with Crosby out and he scored both goals to inspire both the team and the fans. His first goal came on a 2-on-1 as he looked shoot-first the whole way and ripped a wrister past Varlamov’s blocker. The second goal was a nice redirection from the slot through Varlamov’s legs. Sutter didn’t just score in the offensive zone though. He had two takeaways and also did not hesitate whatsoever to set screens on the crease and do the dirty work around the net. It was a very inspired and well-rounded game from him.

James Neal – Neal also added in a well-rounded game. He drew a high-sticking penalty, assisted on Sutter’s powerplay goal, had two neutral zone takeaways and a defensive zone takeaway, and forced another neutral zone turnover on the backcheck. He attempted a team-high seven shots, though four of those missed the net. His only mistake was a turnover on a clearing attempt in the defensive zone. Even though he didn’t score, Neal was dangerous every time he had the puck.

Don't get hurt again! (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Don’t get hurt again! (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Paul Martin – Martin played a team-high 27:36 and there were some shifts where it looked like a little too much for him. He had an uncharacteristically high three defensive zone turnovers, including one on the penalty kill and also one that turned into the first goal against. He also ended up with a delay of game penalty in overtime, but that was more bad luck than anything. On the good side, Martin did add two defensive zone takeaways, some help on Sutter’s second goal, and a couple of good pinches into the offensive zone. It was an okay game overall, but below-average for Martin.

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi seems to be improving on the quantity of good plays he is making lately, but the quality of bad plays is still an issue. In the defensive zone, he intercepted a pass, broke up two passes on the PK, forced a turnover with a poke check, and stepped up to prevent two dump-ins at the blue line. However, he had a turnover on the penalty kill that led to a quality chance and he was partially at fault for the second goal against as he failed to clear the puck out of the zone. Scuderi’s play has improved recently, but it still seems like a majority of his mistakes end up in the back of the net. He needs to keep pushing for flawless if that’s the case.

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen was solid in the offensive zone but a complete mess with the puck in the neutral and defensive zones. He had two offensive zone takeaways and assisted on Sutter’s powerplay goal. Outside of the offensive zone though, he had three defensive zone giveaways, a turnover on a failed zone entry, and also bad defensive coverage as he lost his man around the slot twice. Jokinen’s defensive game has deteriorated significantly over the past month and there is no obvious explanation for it.

This looks like a useful strategy... (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

This looks like a useful strategy… (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo had his third straight subpar game after a better-than-expected March performance. His puck movement has gone downhill and he turned the puck over frequently in the defensive zone. He had three failed clearing attempts and a neutral zone giveaway. On top of it all, his physicality has dropped off and he was essentially a pylon standing on the crease as Ryan O’Reilly scored Colorado’s first goal. Bortuzzo is certainly not making a strong case for playing in the playoffs right now.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Taylor Pyatt had a surprisingly strong game. He forced two turnovers in the defensive zone with poke checks and also had two takeaways while backchecking. He wasn’t great once he had the puck (two neutral zone turnovers), but he was ending Colorado’s rushes quite well. Deryk Engelland also played well as he forced three defensive zone turnovers (two with hits). He also took a careless delay of game penalty, but it was a good game overall. Finally, Andrew Ebbett contributed nicely as he led the team in shots (4), blocked shots (4), and faceoffs (5/10). It was far more than you would expect from a call up, even though he has NHL experience.

“Injuries” – Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik, and Olli Maatta all missed the game with “injuries” that are not likely to be “long-term”. Read: Everyone in the NHL is hurt and this is our way of sitting guys down for a breather. I’m sure all four guys have some sort of bruise/muscle strain/etc, but I’m also willing to bet that all four could play at a moment’s notice for a playoff game. I hope Niskanen joins the crew before the season ends as he is the last remaining guy who really needs a game off. The Penguins might as well rotate guys in and out of the lineup to rest them for the playoffs.

Even flying won't get you ice time, Jayson. (Chris Schneider/AP Photo)

Even flying won’t get you ice time, Jayson. (Chris Schneider/AP Photo)

Ice Time – While sitting guys made sense, not everyone’s ice time made sense. Megna received a shockingly-low 6:52, which was even a couple of minutes less than recent call-up Adam Payerl. Meanwhile, Martin was on the excessively high end at 27:36. I was all for giving everyone equal time in these final Western Conference games that were truly meaningless. Megna’s 6:52 suggests that no one cares what he is capable of doing and he will not be getting a chance to demonstrate it in the playoffs. It was another missed opportunity to see what he could do with a regular shift in a controlled game where the consequences didn’t matter.

Winning without Talent – Regardless of your feelings on Dan Bylsma, you have to admit he can pull out some entertaining and impressive performances out of weak lineups. The Avs should have rolled over the Penguins based on the rosters, and even more so based on the playoff scenarios as the Avs are clinging to home ice advantage. The Penguins B team put forth an impressive effort in all aspects of the game though. There was desire in every single shift as their forechecking and backchecking improved and gained momentum as the game went on. The played a simple game and it rallied around puck pursuit. Fleury, of course, was magnificent to keep the team in the game at all times, but every player on the team deserves credit for how hard they worked against Colorado. It was probably a good mix of hurt pride from the Minnesota game and players taking advantage of opportunities they don’t normally receive (See: Sutter). Hopefully we see this desire next week with the stars in the lineup.  Sadly, this game was just as meaningless as the 4-0 loss to Minnesota though, so there still isn’t much to take away from it for the playoffs.  The games coming up against Detroit and Philadelphia however…

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Sutter)
As the Penguins try to clear their zone, Nick Holden pokes the puck at the Penguins blue line to keep it inside their zone. Tanner Glass steps up on him to chop the puck out of the zone and Brandon Sutter, who was following the play from deeper in the zone, skates past Glass to pick up the puck in the neutral zone before John Mitchell can get control of it. Sutter gets control of the puck past Mitchell and enters the right side of the Avalanche zone on a 2-on-1 with Lee Stempniak against Andre Benoit. Benoit drops to the ice to cover the passing lane but Sutter is looking at Varlamov for a shot the whole way and takes a wrist shot from just above the right faceoff dot that beats Varlamov’s blocker.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Glass (13), Stempniak (13), Sutter (27)

Goal: Sutter (1) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Sutter (1) – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Sutter)
On the powerplay, Brandon Sutter makes a centering pass towards the slot from the left corner but the pass is too hard and bounces off of the right side boards back to the middle of the zone. Both Max Talbot and Marc-Andre Cliché are closer to the puck than any Penguins’ player as the puck slides towards the middle of the zone. Despite this, James Neal lifts the stick of Talbot so he cannot play the puck and Cliché overskates the puck, allowing Jussi Jokinen to get to the puck first and tap it over to Paul Martin above the right faceoff circle. Martin circles back to the right point to get control of the puck and passes it down the right side boards to Jokinen, who makes a one-touch pass to Matt Niskanen at the middle of the blue line. Niskanen winds up for a shot, but then passes the puck over to the right point for Martin, who taps the puck back down the right side boards for Jokinen. Jokinen moves the puck down to James Neal in the right corner along the goal line. Meanwhile, Sutter leaves his position in front of the crease to move to the inside edge of the right faceoff circle. Neal decides to return the puck back to Jokinen and Sutter starts slowly backing towards the slot area again. Jokinen then passes the puck to Sutter, who redirects it through the legs of Varlamov.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Niskanen (56), Martin (22), Neal (65), Jokinen (58), Sutter (28)

Goal: Sutter (2) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Sutter (2) – By @JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (O’Reilly)
Andre Benoit skates the puck up to center ice and dumps it into the right corner of the Penguins zone. Paul Martin gets to the puck first, closely followed by John Mitchell on his right and Jamie McGinn on his left. Martin tries to play the puck, but puts it right on the stick of Mitchell, who passes it down to McGinn below the goal line. Martin tries to poke the puck away from McGinn, who is skating towards the area behind the net, but he is too far away to reach him. McGinn then abruptly turns around and passes the puck right to the tape of Ryan O’Reilly, who is standing next to Robert Bortuzzo but not physically covered by anyone on the crease. O’Reilly immediately flicks the puck over Fleury’s right shoulder into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Martin (21), Bortuzzo (20)

Second Goal Against (Bordeleau)
Max Talbot gets the puck to center ice and dumps it into the left corner of the Penguins zone. Matt Niskanen gets there first and plays it up the left side boards for Rob Scuderi higher in the corner. Scuderi then chips it further up the boards and it goes past Lee Stempniak, who had come down too far, to Nick Holden at the left point. Holden passes the puck to the right for Tyson Barrie at the middle of the blue line. Barrie looks up and takes a wrist shot that get deflected by Patrick Bordeleau in the slot, then goes off of Matt Niskanen’s pants and past Fleury’s right pad.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Scuderi (27), Stempniak (2), Niskanen (34)

Penalty Assessment

Megna (kneeing): Bad-Stupid, skates towards Paul Carey to force him to make a play with the puck in Colorado’s zone and then sticks his knee out to hit Carey and keep him from skating past.
Engelland (delay of game): Bad-Careless, has time when he receives the puck in the defensive zone but holds on to the puck for too long and then plays it over the glass when he gets pressured.
Gibbons (hooking): Bad-Lazy, tries to lift the stick of Gabriel Landeskog in the offensive zone as he plays the puck, but Gibbons doesn’t move his feet and gets his stick into the hands of Landeskog, earning a hooking penalty.
Payerl (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, tries to fight off Jan Hejda as they chase a loose puck in the corner of Colorado’s zone and gets his stick up into Hejda’s face.
Martin (delay of game): Bad, tries to bat a puck out of midair in the defensive zone and the puck flies over the glass.

Pens Record: 50-24-5
Next Game: Wednesday, 4/9 vs Detroit, 8pm

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