Thoughts: Game 80 – Pens fall apart in stunning 4-3 (OT) loss to Senators

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.

Senators 4  Pens 3 (OT)

Record: 42-26-12

Crosby (28) from Hornqvist, Martin
Bennett (4) from Cole
Hornqvist (25) from Crosby, Scuderi

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 80 - Goals

Lapierre (high-sticking) – Bad Call (lifts the stick of Pageau so that Pageau’s own stick ends up hitting him in the face, but the penalty is called on Lapierre despite no contact with his stick and Pageau’s face)
Lovejoy (cross-checking) – Overly aggressive (cross-checks Pageau in the lower back as he’s trying to play the puck along the boards in the Penguins zone)
Team (too many men) – Stupid (Lovejoy tries the carry the puck along the boards across center ice while the Penguins are changing behind him and he loses the puck so it gets knocked into several players trying to change at the bench)

Three Forwards

Gm 80 - Forwards

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Led the team with six shots on net, scored the first goal of the game just ten seconds into the first period, assisted on Hornqvist’s goal with a backhanded one-timer, recorded three takeaways, forced an offensive zone turnover, broke up a play in the defensive zone, and drew a penalty.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away once in the defensive zone, lost the puck three times in the offensive zone, and gave Winnik a bad pass that led to the turnover for the 2nd goal against.
  • Overall: Facing a game near playoff magnitude, Crosby stepped up on the very first shift by blasting a slapshot past Hammond to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead just ten seconds into the game. His performance level never dropped from that first shift as the top line was dominant in the offensive zone shift after shift. They were the only line that could be trusted to get the puck deep and keep it there, which led to Crosby recording six shots and drawing a high-sticking penalty low in the zone. Other highlight reel moments from Crosby included a backhanded one-timer on a puck that came off of Condra’s leg to the right circle that led to Hornqvist’s goal and a sequence where he cycled down low, took on three Senators, dropped to a knee, and still moved the puck to Hornqvist along the boards. As for his negatives, he did lose the puck three times, mostly because he had the puck so frequently in the offensive zone. He was also partially at fault for the 2nd goal against when he had time to look up and make a pass to Winnik in the defensive zone but quickly forced the puck to Winnik’s back skate, which required Winnik to sloppily play the puck with his backhand and lose it for a turnover. Even with those mistakes, Crosby was easily one of the best players on the ice against Ottawa.
Evgeni Malkin
  • Good: Recorded five shots on net, blocked a shot, drew a penalty, and intercepted a pass in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, lost the puck three times, had a failed clear attempt, and generally looked exhausted and not okay throughout the 3rd period.
  • Overall: Malkin played 21:17 (6:01 on the PP) in a performance that appeared to stretch his limits in terms of health and conditioning. Though he did get the puck to the net, he was quiet through most of the night and his line was out of sync on several opportunities. Malkin was frequently completely out of breath on the bench after his shifts, especially in the third period, as it looked like he wasn’t ready to be in game situations yet. For as much as the Penguins needed this game to get closer to a playoff spot, they may have needed it more to rest Malkin in the final weekend of the season. He does not look healthy or ready to be on the ice and I would not be shocked if he is only playing because of how the Penguins have slid into a playoff race. Here’s hoping things don’t get worse for him before they get better (again).
Malkin really needed to sit down during the game. (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

Malkin really needed to sit down during the game. (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

Maxim Lapierre and Craig Adams
  • Good: Lapierre recorded a shot and a forced turnover in the defensive zone. Adams recorded a blocked shot and a takeaway in the defensive one.
  • Bad: Lapierre had a failed clear in the defensive zone and was called for a high-sticking penalty, though it was a bad call as he never made contact. Adams lost a puck once in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Lapierre and Adams didn’t make this list because of an excessive amount of turnovers or because they were at fault for a goal. They ended up here because they were unable to interrupt possession for the Senators midway through the game, which led to Johnston not using them late in the game as he shortened the bench. Lapierre played 6:44 and Adams played 5:02 (with both receiving around 2-3 minutes of PK time) in a sparingly-used effort. As the Penguins, and especially Malkin, noticeably wore down late in the game, it was impossible not to consider the effect that essentially playing 10 forwards was having on the rest of the group. Lapierre and Adams were pinned in the defensive zone on a couple of shifts in the 2nd period and they rarely touched the ice at 5-on-5 after that. It’s simply not good enough to not be trusted to play 5-on-5 minutes. Lapierre had 3:48 and Adams had 3:11 at even strength. The next lowest forward was Bennett at 9:28. That’s a problem.

Two Defensemen and a Goalie

Gm 80 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Made 40 saves on the night, coming up especially clutch in the 2nd period as the Penguins faced an onslaught from the beginning of the period. Among his better saves: Stopping Ryan from the left circle after and Adams/Chorney turnover, a big glove save to rob Karlsson on a cross-slot one-timer from Turris, back-to-back saves on Chiasson from the slot and crease, a glove save on Turris after a Lovejoy turnover at the left circle, a right shoulder save on Methot after a couple of weird bounces to the left circle, a left arm save on a wrist shot from the middle of the slot, and a nice right pad save on a wrist shot from Hoffman.
  • Bad: Based on the stat line – allowed four goals, but they were not on him.
  • Overall: Fleury did as much as he could to weather the storm for the Penguins and was flat-out dominant in the 2nd period when the Penguins started to fall apart. He played a strong overall game, but the team in front of him just couldn’t do enough to match his effort. Going through the goals he allowed: First – Pageau got around Martin near the bottom of the left faceoff circle, then centered the puck and it went off of Pouliot’s left skate and into the net. Second – Crosby and Winnik teamed up for a turnover in the defensive zone to MacArthur, who passed the puck to Stone in the slot for a wrist shot past Fleury’s blocker as Fleury didn’t have enough time to get out to challenge the shot. Third – Hoffman scored on a wrist shot from just inside the right point as Lovejoy stood in front of Fleury so that he couldn’t see Hoffman changing the shooting angle and thus couldn’t move to change his own angle or react to the shot until it was moving past Lovejoy. Fourth – Stone got the puck in the slot in a 3-on-2 situation as Hornqvist skated past him and then rifled a wrist shot past Fleury’s glove. Fleury made several saves on the night that he probably shouldn’t have, but it still wasn’t enough for the Penguins. His unhappiness afterwards (see below) is fully warranted.
Fleury had his eyes on the puck all least when he was given the opportunity. (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

Fleury had his eyes on the puck all night…at least when he was given the opportunity. (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

Paul Martin
  • Good: Recorded an assist on Crosby’s goal by intercepted a pass at the defensive blue line, blocked two shots, forced a defensive zone turnover, broke up four plays in the defensive zone, and drew a penalty.
  • Bad: Had a defensive zone giveaway, lost a puck in the neutral zone, and lost his coverage of Pageau on the first goal against as he got caught flat-footed and Pageau got around him going to the net on the fluky goal.
  • Overall: Martin had to step up with Pouliot leaving the game after the 2nd period and he ended up playing 29:33 as one of the only trustworthy defensemen in the lineup. It was largely a solid performance despite the rough-looking shorthanded goal against that brought Ottawa back into the game. That costly play aside, Martin was strong positionally despite a rotating group of partners and he had just about every passing lane covered throughout the night, which led to his unusually high four broken-up plays. It was a surprisingly strong game given how bad his defensive partner was…
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, forced a defensive zone turnover, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, failed on three clearing attempts, lost track of his coverage once, lost the puck twice, was at fault for the third goal against as he stood in front of Fleury to screen him while covering no one, took an overly aggressive cross-checking penalty, and was at fault for the too many men penalty at the end of the 3rd period when he lost the puck instead of dumping it into the offensive zone while the Penguins were changing.
  • Overall: Lovejoy played 24:14, which is clearly a number that is just too high for his level of play right now…but the Penguins don’t have other options. He was subpar with both his puck management and his decision making in the defensive zone. Though I have harped on Scuderi for this lately, it was Lovejoy that kept moving the puck up the boards with clearing attempts that went directly to Senators forwards in this game. He also struggled in one-on-one situations, looking a bit hesitant and indecisive with stepping up. The lowlight of his night was easily on the 3rd goal against, as he skated away from the faceoff and directly in front of Fleury with no one else there (fatigued decision?), which led to Fleury not picking up Hoffman’s movement or the shot until it was by Lovejoy, which made it impossible to react in time. It was yet another disappointing performance from Lovejoy, who just appears to be in way over his head right now.

Three Thoughts

Some Positives – The game left an awful memory for everyone to hold until the next game on Friday, but there were a few positives here and there. Crosby looked very Crosby-like as he and the first line simply took over shifts in the offensive zone. Winnik didn’t have the best game overall, but it appears that Crosby and Hornqvist can carry anyone on that line right now. Beau Bennett played one of his best games of the season with four shots on net and a goal. His confidence was noticeable on the ice and he was promoted up to the 2nd line with Malkin in the 3rd period for his strong play. Ian Cole continues to look solid and he helped the offense yet again with a beautiful look to Bennett from the high slot for the primary assist on that goal. Also, the Penguins are still in a playoff spot and they still control their destiny, even if they don’t appear to know how to do that right now.

Primed to Lose – The Pens as a team have had plenty of issues that have been going on for a while. They haven’t been able to mount comebacks when losing after two periods all season. They’ve been unable to hold leads for the past three weeks. They also appear to be completely lost:

All of these quotes remind me of one team. They remind me of the Maple Leafs. These are all the types of things that Toronto’s players came out with several weeks ago when there was all kinds of Maple Leaf drama before everyone was resigned to them losing as many games as possible.

The Penguins are clearly lacking confidence and lacking answers as well. This is largely on the players who aren’t getting it done on the ice, but it doesn’t appear that the coaching staff is helping them *adjust* enough either at this point, whether it be on the ice or mentally at this point. The Penguins may be in a playoff spot right now – but it’s hard to believe they will keep it by their own doing with those lovely quotes.

Playoff Watch – The magic number for the Penguins is 3 – any combination of the Penguins gaining 3 points or Ottawa missing out on 3 points will get them into the playoffs. This may adjust as the week goes on based on what Boston does as well. As of now, the Penguins still hold the 1st wild card spot, with the tiebreaker over Boston (for now) and Ottawa (no matter what) if necessary.

Detroit won on Tuesday night and the Isles lost, so here is the playoff picture for teams who haven’t clinched yet (ROW is the tiebreaker):

Islanders – 80gp, 98 pts (39 ROW): @ Pit, vs Cls
Red Wings – 80gp, 97 pts (38 ROW): @ Mtl, @ Car
Penguins – 80gp, 96 pts (38 ROW): vs NYI, @ Buf
Bruins – 79gp, 95 pts (37 ROW): @ Was, @ Fla, vs TB
Senators – 80gp, 95 pts (35 ROW): @ NYR, @ Phi

The schedule and situation still favors the Penguins theoretically and that’s why their % to make the playoff is so high on every chart you will see. I certainly can’t fault anyone for thinking that they won’t do it on their own and will require the help of others to get there though. Buckle up.

What do you trust more? The Pens winning or the Sens losing? It's hard to believe in either right now... (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

What do you trust more? The Pens winning or the Sens losing? It’s hard to believe in either right now… (Justin Tang/AP Photo)

Next Game: 4/10 vs NYI, 7pm

Thanks for reading!