Thoughts: Game 81 – Pens continue to slide in 3-1 loss to Islanders

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.

Islanders 3  Pens 1

Record: 42-27-12

Goals
Scuderi (1) from Crosby, Martin

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 81 - Goals

Penalties
Downie (clipping) – Bad Call (hits Hickey behind the net on his hip as Hickey jumps up into the air and then falls down in pain, drawing a penalty for a clean hit)

Three Forwards

Gm 81 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with six shots on net, drew two penalties, broke up two plays in the offensive zone, had a takeaway, and intercepted a pass in the offensive zone.
  • Bad: Had one offensive zone giveaway.
  • Overall: Hornqvist’s performance matched his performance from basically every other game this month. He was strong everywhere in the offensive zone, especially down low and around the crease as he and Crosby dominated puck possession as usual. He had a near-goal on the powerplay that almost opened up the scoring, but it was ruled no-goal due to inconclusive evidence that the puck was completely over the line. The Penguins are in dire need of offense and they could certainly use more production from Hornqvist, but he’s definitely doing everything he possibly can to create it.
Hornqvist keeps doing his job. Hopefully he gets rewarded for it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hornqvist keeps doing his job. Hopefully he gets rewarded for it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Assisted on Scuderi’s goal by knocking the puck across the crease to him, had two shots on net, recorded two takeaways in the offensive zone, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost the puck once in the offensive zone.
  • Overall: Crosby assisted on the only goal for the Penguins to stay in a tie with Tavares for the scoring lead. He and Hornqvist were easily the best Penguins all night as they continually created chances down low and dominated puck possession. His play in the neutral and defensive zones was superb too as the first line was very dependable for moving the puck forward into the offensive zone. His recent play, a huge spotlight on Game 82, and Buffalo as an opponent seem to align for a very big Sidney Crosby game.
Maxim Lapierre
  • Good: Recorded four shots on net.
  • Bad: Had one neutral zone giveaway.
  • Overall: Lapierre looked terrible against Ottawa, but he had a very nice bounce back game against the Islanders as the 4th line actually created opportunities. He was very efficient with the puck and seemed to build a little chemistry with Comeau as the two crashed the net at will in the first period. He created energy in the offensive zone (six hits) and though his performance did tail off as the game progressed, his faceoff numbers (83%) kept his value up throughout the game. Unfortunately, as with everyone else who has played well, a lack of offensive production limited the actual value of his performance.

Three Defensemen

Gm 81 - Defense

Rob Scuderi
  • Good: Scored the only goal for the Penguins on a wrist shot during a scramble from the bottom of the left faceoff circle, forced two turnovers, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost the puck twice and had two defensive zone giveaways.
  • Overall: Of all people, Scuderi managed to score his first goal in 181 games to tie the game for the Penguins. He did it in the midst of a 24-minute night, which didn’t go as poorly as you would expect for him playing that much. His puck management was average at best with four positive and four negative plays. His positioning was solid though against a quick team that made him look terrible earlier in the season. It was a solid performance for Scuderi, albeit one that was wasted in a loss.
This is a rare sight. Treasure it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

This is a rare sight. Treasure it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Paul Martin
  • Good: Forced two defensive zone turnovers and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost two pucks and lost track of two coverages, one of which led to the Islanders’ first goal of the game (shorthanded).
  • Overall: Simply put, Martin looked exhausted. His recent games have usually started strong and tailed off at the end, but Martin appeared to wear down much quicker in this game during his 27:55 performance. He was the man at fault for the first goal against as the puck went into the opposite corner of the offensive zone and he was slow to move to the middle when Malkin went to the left point, which allowed Cizikas to find a seam down the middle of the ice for a shorthanded breakaway goal. He uncharacteristically lost another coverage later in the game, though it didn’t lead to a goal against. At this point, you have to wonder how much Martin has left in the tank for this season.
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Recorded four shots on net.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway in the neutral zone and lost track of Tavares in the defensive zone on the second goal against.
  • Overall: Lovejoy played a decent game overall as he logged 21:27 of ice time. He was good with the puck, made several smart plays to exit the defensive zone, and put the puck on net with every chance he had. On the downside, he found himself in a tough spot and probably the wrong spot for the rebound goal by Tavares. On that play, Lovejoy had to follow Kulemin into the corner of the zone at full speed and then cut back with Kulemin before he passed the puck back to Strait at the point. When that pass was made, Lovejoy eased into the right circle, likely tired and also seemingly unaware that Tavares was behind him. Tavares got a perfect rebound after Okposo deflected Strait’s shot and Lovejoy was too far away to make a play on the rebound or shot. It probably would have been a tough defensive play even if Lovejoy was right on Tavares because of the quickness of the rebound, but he still shouldn’t have been drifting in the right circle by himself. Even with the mistake, it was a decent game for him. The mistake was extremely costly though, as many of his have been over the past month.

Three Thoughts

"Should...should we see what they're doing?" (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

“Should…should we see what they’re doing?” (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Physical and Mental Fatigue – The Pens did what they were supposed to do again…minus the winning part…again. They led in shots 17-5 after the first period and 38-26 for the game. They even got a goal from Rob Scuderi. They didn’t give up many chances. They played good fundamental hockey…until everyone was exhausted. The Pens look like a tired team. Tired of the puck not going in. Tired of bad breaks (see: disallowed goal followed by shorthanded goal against just seconds later – one player makes a mistake, but the entire team suffers). Tired of injuries. Tired of unanswerable questions. Tired. Oh, that’s just mentally. Physically, the defense is just flat-out tired as everyone continues to play minutes they were never meant for. It doesn’t stop at the players either. How fatigued are Johnston and the staff at this point? Tired of injuries. Tired of trying to plan with 5 defensemen. Tired of Craig Adams. Tired of watching the team dominate puck possession only to lose. Tired of bad penalties over the season. Playing with the right process will eventually yield results. Nothing says those results have to fit within the limits of Game 82 though. I can’t blame anyone, teams/fans/coaching staff, for being tired of waiting for the results (GMs and above are a different story).

I did find it interesting that Hornqvist, who has played wonderfully recently, seemed genuinely excited about playing Game 82 for the playoffs.  It appears he hasn’t been outwardly beaten down by this season and he doesn’t have the past playoff failures that the core of this team has to weigh him down. Good for you, Hornqvist.

Two notes from some solid tweets recently:

Now, don’t take this straight up as Johnston is a bad coach/the staff is awful. There are several parts that go into it. First off, it does put into question the *ahem* ADJUSTMENTS made by the staff and players as the season has progressed. However, I would imagine that injuries later in the season (Malkin, Letang) played a part in that result. It also doesn’t help that the team has been hindered by player personnel choices and 5 defensemen in some of those 3rd, 4th, and 5th meetings. It’s an interesting trend to note, but don’t put it all on the coach, just some of it.

Speaking of injuries…

Bylsma certainly dealt with his fair share of injuries too and his teams responded better throughout the season, at least results-wise. There are a plethora of theories for this, starting at differences in styles and ending with bad luck. The easiest takeaway – a system built on great puck movers on defense doesn’t quite work when your three best ones (Letang, Maatta, Ehrhoff) all miss significant amounts of time.

Playoff Watch – Here’s the list of scenarios:

Just beat Buffalo.

UPDATE: Ottawa has defeated Philly and clinched a playoff spot.  It’s between Pittsburgh and Boston for the final playoff spot.  Pittsburgh can still finish in either wild card spot depending on what Detroit does (assuming Pittsburgh beats Buffalo, of course).

Don’t Sleep on Buffalo – Speaking of, Buffalo clinched last place in the NHL. In actuality, it doesn’t matter. The players were not trying to lose – the GM and owners were. The players will try tonight, just as they tried every other night this season. The fans are going to be rooting for a win, which will be different. A lot of those players are playing for future jobs and last impressions going into free agency and unknown futures – that is the scary part to me. Literally anything could happen in this game. Be safe.

Next Game: Regular season finale, 4/11 @ Buffalo, 7pm

Thanks for reading!