Thoughts: Game 80 – Pens 4 Red Wings 3 (SO)

Pens 4  Red Wings 3 (SO)

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Neal (25) (PP) from Crosby, Martin
Neal (26) (PP) from Niskanen, Martin
Jokinen (19) from Letang, Niskanen
SO Winner: Jokinen

Sometimes you're just lying around and someone rudely slides a puck at you. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Sometimes you’re just lying around and someone rudely slides a puck at you. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Shots: Neal (6)
Missed Shots: Crosby, Kunitz, Maatta (2)
Blocked Shots: Glass, Letang, Martin (3)
Hits: Kunitz (5)
Ice Time: Martin (27:33) … Payerl (8:45)
Faceoffs: Sutter (10/12) … Adams (3/8)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+28.3%) … Stempniak (-31.9%)

Quick Summary
Good: Neal, Maatta, Martin
Noteworthy: Letang, Sutter
Bad: Jokinen
Other Players: Gibbons, Glass, Niskanen
Misc Thoughts: Lingering Depth Issues, Playoff Picture
1st GA: Kunitz, Niskanen, Letang
1st GF: Martin, Crosby, Neal
2nd GA: Orpik, Payerl
2nd GF: Kunitz, Crosby, Martin, Niskanen, Neal
3rd GF: Letang, Jokinen
3rd GA: Neal, Letang, Martin
Gibbons (high-sticking; Bad-Careless)
Jokinen (holding the stick; Bad-Stupid)

Player Assessment

Neal doesn't know if people love him or hate him at this point. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Neal doesn’t know if people love him or hate him at this point. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

James Neal – Neal led the offense along with two powerplay goals, six shots, and a couple of offensive zone takeaways. He was both patient and persistent in the offensive zone, making smart decisions every time he had the puck. He was even smart without the puck as he was blatantly tripped but didn’t look to retaliate and kept his head in the game. That’s exactly the type of Neal everyone wants to see. He did have a couple of defensive zone turnovers, including one that led to the third goal against, but his offense more than made up for it overall.

Olli Maatta – Maatta saw a reduction in ice time (16:17) and looked very calm and confident with it throughout the game. He looked great in 1-on-1 situations, even standing up Pavel Datsyuk and forcing a turnover in the defensive zone. He also forced another turnover on a poke check, had a shot block in the slot, and had a couple of good offensive zone pinches as well. Maatta could easily be entering the playoffs as the best “sixth” defenseman in the league since he is capable of playing against top talent or could dominate 3rd and 4th lines potentially.

Paul Martin – Martin showed great poise with the puck and demonstrated why everyone had been eagerly awaiting his return. He assisted on both powerplay goals by Neal, had two nice zone entries into Detroit’s zone, forced two turnovers on defensive poke checks, and blocked a shot in the slot. He led the team with 27:33 of playing time, and unlike over the past weekend, didn’t look fatigued during it whatsoever. It looks like Martin will be ready to handle #1 defenseman duties easily when the playoffs begin.

Letang's ability to skate the puck was an instant factor in his return. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Letang’s ability to skate the puck was an instant factor in his return. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang had an up-and-down return, which was expected after he missed 10 weeks recovering from a stroke. His skated well throughout the night and it appeared that the only part of his game that was missing was his anticipation, which should come back within a couple of games. On the good side, he had a nice offensive zone keep, a clutch block on the crease, and he was responsible for the entire play on Jokinen’s goal. The majority of his problems came on failed clears (three of them) from the defensive zone when he didn’t properly anticipate where his own players were going. He was also partially at fault for the first goal against as he lost a battle against Tomas Jurco for the puck on the crease. Regardless, the night was a good first step overall for Letang.

Brandon Sutter – After a great game on Sunday , Sutter returned to normalcy against Detroit. He struggled early in the game with two defensive zone turnovers and a failed clear. He did improve as the game went on though, blocking two shots on one shift and also breaking up two zone entries. His faceoff numbers were great (8/10), but it was an inconsistent game overall.

Jokinen lucked his way into good results, but his play wasn't great. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Jokinen lucked his way into good results, but his play wasn’t great. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen ended up with a gift of a goal and a lucky bounce shootout winner to make his stats look nice, but his overall play was disappointing. He took a stupid holding the stick penalty when he wouldn’t let go of Darren Helm’s stick as they skated from the faceoff circle to the front of the net in front of a ref. He also had two neutral zone turnovers, an offensive zone giveaway, and a defensive zone turnover as well. His neutral zone and defensive zone play have really trended down over the past month and it will be something to watch in the playoffs.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Brian Gibbons had a quiet night aside from both taking and drawing penalties. He took a high-sticking penalty, drew a holding penalty, and also drew a high-sticking penalty. His official role in the lineup might as well be penalty drawer at this point. Tanner Glass drew an interference penalty chasing after a loose puck, intercepted a defensive zone pass, and had a nice shot block at the point. The problem here is that all of his good moments are because he never has the puck, which is an underlying issue. Matt Niskanen had a decent game, notching a powerplay assist but also getting caught flat-footed on the first goal against. It will be interesting to watch his role change as Letang gets up to speed.

Babcock would eat the souls of the 4th line in a playoff series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Babcock would eat the souls of the 4th line in a playoff series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Lingering Depth Issues – As the team continues to get healthy, excitement is building for how much potential this team could really have. Getting Martin and Letang back has already paid immediate dividends on breakouts, offensive zone puck possession, and putting goals on the board. One issue still remains though, forward depth is lacking. The third line is average at best and the fourth line is a black hole for puck possession. The Wings feasted on the third and fourth lines when it came to zone time and pressure. The biggest issue for the 4th line is that they have no quickness whatsoever. Pyatt, Adams, and Payerl frequently got trapped too deep in the defensive zone to get out to the points, or just in a position where they couldn’t/didn’t move a step or two quick enough to stop a pass or shot. It can easily be brushed off in a regular season game, but every team in the playoffs will try to destroy that 4th line in a series. The bottom 6, and especially the fourth line, are still a big weakness for this team even if the rest of the lineup is playing great.

Playoff Picture – All of the Eastern Conference playoff spots have been clinched and the Penguins could still face Detroit, Columbus, Philadelphia, or New York (Rangers). The Rangers (93 pts, 2 gms left) are unlikely and Philadelphia (91 pts, 3 gms left) is somewhat unlikely as Columbus (91 pts, 2 gms left) and Detroit (91 pts, 2 gms left) have the least amount of possible points remaining. Columbus has already clinched the tie-breaker on Detroit in case they finish in a tie. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has the tie-breaker on both of them and the Rangers have the tie-breaker on everyone. Saturday’s game against Philadelphia will be an interesting one in the standings as no one “tries” to lose, but it may very easily benefit one team more than the other. Everyone, just stay healthy. **Edit: NYR no longer a possibility**

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Jurco)
Brandon Sutter picks up the puck behind the Penguins net and throws it up the right side boards for Chris Kunitz. As the puck approaches him, Kunitz takes a quick glance to the middle to see his outlet options and then proceeds to miss the puck as it moves past him along the boards. The puck makes its way out to Niklas Kronwall at the right point, who throws it back down the boards for Darren Helm, who is moving into the spot that was occupied by Kunitz. Helm gets the puck and holds it as he skates higher in the zone while the Red Wings come back into the zone. He then passes the puck to Daniel Alfredsson entering the middle of the zone. Alfredsson fakes a shot to catch Matt Niskanen flat-footed and then carries the puck down to the right faceoff dot unopposed as Niskanen can’t step up on him. From there, he takes a shot that Fleury deflects to the glass behind the goal line. The puck takes an odd bounce and comes right back out to the front of the crease, where Tomas Jurco wins a battle against Kris Letang and knocks the puck into the net just above Fleury’s right pad.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Kunitz (19), Niskanen (35), Letang (21)

First Goal For (Neal)
On the powerplay, Paul Martin picks up the puck in the Penguins zone as Detroit is changing behind the play. Martin carries the puck up through the zone and passes it to Sidney Crosby entering the neutral zone. Crosby skates the puck directly into the middle of a diamond of Red Wings players and carries the puck into the offensive zone as the entire diamond backs into the zone and closes in on him. Crosby looks to his left and sees that James Neal has a step on Darren Helm, so he makes a backhand pass to Neal at the inside of the left faceoff circle. Neal has an open lane to the net, holds the puck towards the outside to get Gustavsson to go down, pulls the puck to the inside across Gustavsson into the slot, and slides the puck into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Martin (23), Crosby (113), Neal (66)

Goal: Neal (1) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Neal (1) – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal Against (Kindl)
After sustained pressure in the Penguins zone while Paul Martin does not have a stick, Brian Lashoff takes a shot from the left point that hits off of the side of the net and goes behind. Brooks Orpik is the first man to the puck, but he has his stick lifted by Gustav Nyquist and Nyquist takes the puck away. Nyquist makes a backhand pass towards the slot from below the goal line and the puck drifts out to Jakub Kindl at the right point. Kindl is pressured by Adam Payerl, so he passes the puck down to Tomas Tatar in the right corner of the zone. Tatar is pressured by Craig Adams, so he passes the puck back to Kindl at the right point. Kindl moves the puck towards the middle of the blue line with no pressure as Adam Payerl gets caught flat-footed too deep in the zone to pursue him. Meanwhile, Brooks Orpik gets tied up with Riley Sheahan on the crease. Orpik gets his stick in between Sheahan’s legs, allowing/forcing Sheahan to fall on Fleury as Kindl takes a slapshot from the blue line. Kindl’s shot gets past Fleury’s blocker and hits the top corner of the net as Fleury is taken down under Sheahan and Orpik.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Orpik (35), Payerl (1)

Second Goal For (Neal)
On the powerplay, Sidney Crosby wins an offensive zone faceoff in the left faceoff circle to the left boards. Crosby retrieves his own faceoff win as Chris Kunitz boxes out Niklas Kronwall from the puck. Crosby passes the puck across the ice to the right point for Paul Martin, who holds the puck and then passes it down to James Neal at the top of the right faceoff circle. Neal immediately makes a one-touch pass to Matt Niskanen at the middle of the blue line and Niskanen fakes a pass to the left before giving the puck back to Martin at the right point. Martin skates the puck deeper into the zone by a couple of strides as James Neal sets himself up at the top of the left faceoff circle. Martin then passes the puck back to Niskanen at the middle of the blue line and Niskanen moves the puck to Neal at the top of the left faceoff circle. Neal has room to work with, so he moves the puck forward and steps into a slapshot that goes through the legs of Danny DeKeyser in front of him and through the legs of Sidney Crosby on the crease past Gustavsson’s left pad into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Kunitz (93), Crosby (114), Martin (24), Niskanen (57), Neal (67)

Goal: Neal (2) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Neal (2) – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal For (Jokinen)
Kris Letang retrieves a cleared puck as he skates back into the Penguins zone. Letang steps around David Legwand in the Penguins zone and then picks up speed as he skates through a clear pathway in the middle of the neutral zone. He moves to his right to enter into Detroit’s zone and gets forced to the outside. Letang keeps carrying the puck deeper into the zone and finally takes a shot on Gustavsson from just outside the right faceoff dot. The puck hits Gustavsson in the chest, but he doesn’t handle it cleanly. He drops down to cover the puck, not realizing that it has slid under him and is beyond him. Jussi Jokinen, who was skating near the net after Letang’s shot was stopped, sees that the puck is loose behind Gustavsson and taps it into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Letang (27), Jokinen (59)

Goal: Jokinen - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Jokinen – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal Against (Sheahan)
Detroit wins a faceoff in the Penguins zone. The puck goes back to Brendan Smith, who takes a shot that goes high and wide of the net. James Neal retrieves the puck in the left corner of the zone and tries to pass it behind the net. His pass is intercepted by Tomas Tatar behind the net. Tatar immediately throws the puck to the front of the net and it hits off of Fleury’s stick and a few skates before Riley Sheahan backhands it on net. Fleury makes the initial save and then stops Tomas Jurco on a rebound chance as well. The puck bounces to the left and Tatar picks it up. He throws it across the slot to Smith on the outside edge of the right faceoff circle. Smith takes the puck below the goal line and tries to throw the puck in front, but he’s stopped by Kris Letang. Letang throws the puck around the boards and it goes to Niklas Kronwall at the left point as James Neal is not in position to help with the clear attempt. Kronwall passes the puck to the right point, from where Sheahan takes a one-timer on net. The shot goes off of Paul Martin’s stick in the slot and loops over Fleury, hitting the crossbar and falling into the net.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Neal (11), Letang (22), Martin (22)

Penalty Assessment

Gibbons (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, circles around the offensive zone next to Jakub Kindl and hits him in the face on a missed stick lift as the puck approaches them.
Jokinen (holding the stick): Bad-Stupid, loses a defensive zone faceoff to Darren Helm and then grabs Helm’s stick. Helm tries to skate towards the front of the net, yanking his stick four times as Jokinen refuses to let go of it until the whistle is blown for the penalty.

Pens Record: 51-24-5
Next Game: Saturday, 4/12 vs Philadelphia, 3pm

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