Thoughts: Game 9 – Penguins vs Avalanche

Avalanche 1  Penguins 0

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
None

Goal Assessment

Little did anyone know this would be the only goal. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Little did anyone know that this would be the only goal. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

First Goal Against (Landeskog)
Paul Martin can’t keep the puck in at the offensive zone blue line, takes it back to center ice, and then gives it away at the offensive blue line to the Avs. As this happens, Gabriel Landeskog steps out of the penalty box and receives a pass. Martin reaches out to deflect the pass, but misses completely in the neutral zone. Landeskog then enters the Penguins’ zone with a partial 2-on-1 as Jokinen rushes back into the defensive zone to cover the 2nd player on the far side of the ice. As Jokinen gets to his man, Brooks Orpik slides over to Landeskog to close the gap on him. As Landeskog takes a wrist shot before he reaches Orpik, Brandon Sutter stick checks the puck from behind, which causes a change in shooting angle and an odd bounce as Landeskog still gets the shot off. He ends up beating Fleury glove-side.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Martin (7)

Penalty Assessment

Malkin (goalie interference): Bad, it’s possible to argue this as a bad call because it doesn’t look like Malkin can go anywhere. However, Giguere is well-established at the top of the crease and Malkin has several options that don’t involve bowling him over (spinning off of him, dropping into him, etc.). Malkin lifting his right leg and crushing Giguere made it an easier call than it should have been.
Adams (interference): Bad, races Ryan Wilson back into the defensive zone for a puck and leans into Wilson to turn him around as Scuderi retrieves the puck instead.
Kunitz (high-sticking): Bad, went for a one-handed stick lift on Jamie McGinn skating through the neutral zone with the puck. Completely missed McGinn’s stick and smacked him in the face.
Jokinen (unsportsmanlike-diving): Bad, was being held by Guenin going behind the net and promptly jumped as if his legs were taken out to fall to the ground. His legs were not touched.

Player Assessment

Good

Marc-Andre Fleury – He only faced 14 shots, but Fleury had to make a few clutch saves to keep the Penguins in a one goal game. Not only that, but I imagine Fleury was probably struggling to keep his focus with the light workload. He came up big in the 2nd period when Orpik missed on a hit leading to a short breakaway and in the 3rd period when the Avs had an odd-man break and a good chance from the slot. As for the only goal against, the weird bounce off of Sutter’s stick and then Landeskog’s stick made that shot almost unreadable. It was another solid game for Fleury.

Bortuzzo did the most with his ice time against Colorado. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo did the most with his ice time against Colorado. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo used his size to his advantage frequently against Colorado and played his best game of the season. He drew two penalties (tripping, and then hooking on the PK) just by keeping his big frame between Avs forwards and the puck. Additionally, he won several puck battles and gave the Avs almost no room all night. If he continues to use his body like he did against Colorado, he is in for a strong season.

Rob Scuderi – It was a good night for defensive defensemen as Rob Scuderi also had a strong performance against the Avs. I can’t say it enough; Scuderi is simply amazing when it comes to odd-man breaks and situations. He had two pass break ups and a block on the PK. He also had two 2-on-1 break ups. Though he doesn’t add too much in the offensive zone, he did glove a puck down from near his head at the offensive blue line to keep the puck in. I am very excited to see how well Scuderi can play with Letang when he returns.

Noteworthy

Olli Maatta – Maatta had another up and down game, which, as I will continually say, is to be expected for the rookie defenseman. He was very smart in the offensive zone with a couple of good keeps at the blue line and a pinch deep into the zone that won the Penguins a puck battle. He also had several good poke checks in the defensive zone. The biggest issue with his game against Colorado was his passing decisions. He had a couple of giveaways passing the puck out of the defensive zone and also lost the puck a couple of times in the neutral zone. The other thing I noticed is he was knocked off of the puck a couple of times in the defensive zone. It’s easy to forget, but at only 19 years old, Maatta still has some growing to do.

Bad

Paul Martin – Paul Martin was absolutely awful against the Avalanche. I marked him down for losing the puck / giving it away SIX times. I also saw two bad clearing attempts on the PK, two failed keeps at the offensive blue line, and a bad attempt to break up a pass on the only goal of the game. On the plus side, he blocked three shots, but that isn’t nearly enough to cover for the amount of times he made a bad decision with the puck or simply lost it. This is the second game in a row that Martin has looked uncomfortable/off with the puck. It could be better competition (two solid defensive systems), but Martin has to take care of the puck much better than he did. Another thing to note – Martin had 0 shots on net in 9:33 of powerplay time. The Avs game was one to forget for Martin.

Matt Niskanen – Continuing with the theme that puck-moving defensemen had bad nights, Niskanen didn’t come up with his best showing either. He did have a great step up at the defensive blue line in the 3rd period that caused a takeaway, but just like Martin, his problem was with puck possession/decisions. Niskanen had at least two errant passes and gave the puck away in the neutral zone another three times. He also only managed 1 shot on net in 8:46 of powerplay time. This is the version of Niskanen people are quick to trade away.

Misc Thoughts

Something something something Cole Harbour. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Something something something Cole Harbour. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Other Player Notes – Evgeni Malkin (8 shots) and Sidney Crosby (7 shots) both had decent games but obviously couldn’t find a way to beat Giguere. They each had over 10 minutes of powerplay time as well. Malkin specifically looked better than he had in the previous two games with puck possession. Chris Conner only played 8:54, and didn’t do much aside from fall into the boards to draw a penalty (probably because he’s half the size of most players). I can’t figure out why he plays over Jeffrey…or Engelland at this point. Joe Vitale had another good forechecking game and also went 8 for 10 in faceoffs. Brooks Orpik played well, but looked downright foolish as he missed a hit that led to a short breakaway on Fleury. Brandon Sutter continues to look extremely uncomfortable with the puck.

Maatta Decision – The Penguins now have three days before their next game to think about the Maatta decision. I imagine some of this time will be used to field trade offers to see what is out there. I still firmly believe he should be sent down. The current defensive depth in the NHL is solid and I like the idea of a Niskanen/Bortuzzo third pairing. Bortuzzo doesn’t have any other options and has earned his playing time as well, let him use it. Take advantage of the fact that Maatta does have this option. He shouldn’t be hurt by another year in juniors.  If he’s that kind of head case, that’s another issue.

Powerplay – The powerplay was bad in terms of results (0 for 7), but didn’t look awful in terms of execution and chances. Giguere made several strong saves to keep the Penguins scoreless. One of the biggest issues was a lack of quick puck movement around the perimeter. The Avs frequently had time to recover their form as the Penguins moved the puck around for shots. That led to plenty of blocks and misses. With the way the Avs were playing, I don’t expect that to be an ongoing issue.

Sometimes, you just play a brick wall. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Sometimes, you just play a brick wall. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Giguere and the Avs – Give credit to JS Giguere and the Avs as a whole. They broke up passes, blocked a ton of shots, and Giguere made a few spectacular saves. When a team is that dedicated to the cause and the system, they can be hard to beat. It’s clear the Avs have bought into absolutely everything Roy has taught them already. Good for them and on to the next one.

Upcoming Weekend – We should see Jeff Zatkoff again this weekend as the Penguins have a home game vs the Islanders on Friday and a road game in Toronto on Saturday. Hopefully Bylsma opts to start Zatkoff at home on Friday. He could probably use the support of the home crowd and starting him in Toronto is like throwing him into a fire. Let Fleury take care of that one. Here’s hoping we see a better Zatkoff than a week and a half ago.

Pens Record: 7-2
Next Game: Friday, 10/25 vs NY Islanders, 7pm

Thanks for reading!