- Robert Bortuzzo is back in the lineup and Simon Despres is scratched in his place
- Tomas Vokoun gets the start in net
- When these teams met just 5 days ago, Evgeni Malkin suffered a concussion
Panthers 6 Pens 4
Neal (13) from Crosby, Kunitz
Jeffrey (2) from Orpik, Bennett
Martin (4) from Neal
Kunitz (8) (PP) from Crosby
- James Neal led the team with 6 shots and 5 hits
- Beau Bennett was the only forward to not record a shot
- Brooks Orpik led the team with 4 blocked shots
- Sidney Crosby was 16 for 26 on faceoffs
- Craig Adams played 5:39 shorthanded and only 5:33 at even strength
- Joe Vitale only played 7:33 and Tanner Glass played 8:03
- Pittsburgh’s penalty kill was only 3 for 7
Chris Kunitz: Kunitz played smart all over the ice and it led him to a 2 point night with a little luck on his side. For the first half of the game, Kunitz demonstrated his defensive prowess by getting his stick in front of passes and shots, and assisting in the breakout that led to Neal’s goal. Late in the 2nd period, he was rewarded with a powerplay goal of his own thanks to a centering pass that bounced off of defenseman Mike Weaver and past goalie Jose Theodore. The goal was the perfect revenge for Kunitz against Weaver, who had elbowed him in the face in last week’s matchup.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Though he took the loss, Fleury stopped 12 of 13 shots and played admirably in relief duty for Tomas Vokoun. He had an instant impact on the penalty kill as he made a couple of key saves and created momentum that led to a Penguins’ goal. Despite another notch in the loss column, Fleury did everything anyone could have asked for.
James Neal: Neal helped pace the offensive effort by getting pucks to the net (6 shots) and pushing for a very aggressive forecheck (5 hits). He finished with a goal and an assist and had some key pass interceptions in the defensive zone as well. The only blemish in his game was the offensive zone hooking penalty he took late in the 2nd period.
Sidney Crosby: Crosby had yet another productive offensive night, recording 3 shots, 2 assists, and going 16 for 26 in faceoffs. Despite the positive stat line, his frequent decisions to pass up on shooting opportunities for forced passes (which often go the other direction) have been questionable at best. Eventually, Sid will thread the needle and complete some amazing passes or he will learn to stop forcing them so much. Either way, his errant pass total needs to drop quickly.
Tomas Vokoun: Vokoun had his second tough start in a row and was pulled after allowing 4 goals, all on the powerplay. It’s difficult to assess the damage against him since every goal came on the powerplay, but Vokoun did not look comfortable in the crease at any point during the game. He appeared to be fighting the puck and had significant positioning and movement issues. More on Vokoun later.
Kris Letang: On most nights, Letang’s brilliant skill set will outweigh his risky decision making. Tonight was not one of those nights. He had numerous issues clearing the puck from the defensive zone and had a couple of turnovers in the neutral zone as well. Worst of all, he was clearly at fault on the game-winning goal where he pinched deep into the offensive zone to retrieve a puck that he originally missed the net on. He was unable to retrieve the puck and it led to a 2 on 1 break for the Panthers and Fleischmann’s goal. It was a very poor time for Letang to even consider such a risk let alone actually take it.
Pascal Dupuis: In the box score, it looked like Dupuis had a relatively normal game. Re-watching each goal tells a very different story though. Dupuis was very sluggish on the penalty kill. He missed a key coverage on the first goal against, fanned on a clearing attempt right before the 3rd goal against, and was in the penalty box for the 4th goal against. It was an uncharacteristically bad game for Dupuis and one that he will surely bounce back from quickly.
Penalty Kill: The penalty kill was simply awful as a group, only killing 3 of 7 penalties. The PK unit as a whole was slow to rotate in their box formation and fanned on a few attempts to clear pucks from the zone. Additionally, there was little to no physicality in front of the net (aside from Adams cross-checking Kopecky AFTER a goal) as the Panthers easily took claim to the area for close range goals. Vokoun may not have had his best game ever, but the lackadaisical effort around the crease deserves some blame as well.
Vokoun’s Troubles: Vokoun’s second poor start in a row puts the organization in an awkward position temporarily. When he was receiving regular starts early in the season, Vokoun was an absolute rock in net. Since Fleury has gotten hot, Vokoun has received fewer starts and has looked dismal when he gets to play. Do the Pens keep riding Fleury through his hot streak or do they try to get Vokoun more time to settle in and snap out of his slump? In my humble opinion, it would be best to work with Vokoun now rather than find out you don’t trust him down the stretch when Fleury needs rest before the playoffs.
Discipline Problems: The Penguins took 9 minor penalties in this game. 4 of those penalties were in the offensive zone. Another 2 were while the Penguins were on the penalty kill. Another 2 were directly after the Panthers scored (the Adams/Vokoun/Kopecky/Letang incident where Adams didn’t even get the penalty he deserved). Finally, one was a delay of game to start the 2nd period. While some of these penalties are the type that would occur in the heat of the moment and during the course of a game, the vast majority were unacceptable against the Panthers. The team has to be smarter in the offensive zone, especially with the penalty kill struggling lately. This issue has been harped on so frequently that there isn’t much to say anymore; the Penguins have to show more discipline on a nightly basis.
Making Adjustments: When the Panthers and Penguins met just days ago, the Pens benefited greatly from Florida playing their second game in as many nights. Mistakes were made, but the Panthers looked too sluggish and disoriented to take advantage of it. The Pens made the same mistakes in this game and Florida was very ready for it. The Panthers waited for the stretch pass, they forced which direction they wanted the Pens to take through the neutral zone, and they swarmed the areas on the ice where the Pens operate the most. How did the Pens adjust? They didn’t. The third period was filled with the Penguins trying the exact same stretch passes and dump-ins over and over again that were also unsuccessful over and over again. In one way, that was the first instance of the Pens truly missing Malkin and his ability to just break through all of it with a head of steam when he’s motivated. Without him, the Pens are going to have to be more creative in similar situations.
Defensemen Shuffle: Bortuzzo played 12:13 and had a mostly quiet night in place of Simon Despres. He didn’t really do anything that would suggest he should get benched again but he didn’t do anything to keep his spot either. As the Despres vs. Bortuzzo battle for the 6th defenseman spot continues, Mark Eaton could very well play a role almost immediately. After a dismal PK performance by the team overall, Eaton would provide Bylsma with another defenseman that he already trusts in PK scenarios and it would take the load off of Martin and Orpik a little. This game may have been the perfect excuse for Bylsma to insert Mark Eaton into the lineup.
Remember Boychuk: Finally, a quick look to possible changes at forward. While everyone is still clamoring for Tyler Kennedy’s head, it’s time to stop thinking he will get scratched. One guy who may be scratched for a game after tonight is Tanner Glass. Glass took a bad penalty, was limited to 8:03 of ice time, and only played 1:09 on the penalty kill. If Bylsma moves away from using Glass on the PK, he will become expendable pretty quickly for a game here and there. Personally, I would like to see Boychuk get a couple more chances before Malkin returns. Glass might have to be the guy that sits for it.
**If you would like my assessment on each goal, visit CrosbyFTW **