Thoughts: Game 35 – Penguins vs Maple Leafs

Published on December 17th, 2013

Penguins 3  Maple Leafs 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Conner (3) from Dumoulin, Vitale
Crosby (19) from Dupuis, Bortuzzo
Sutter (6) (SH) (EN) unassisted

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Conner)
With the Leafs trying to clear their own zone, Joe Vitale pinches up on the right side boards and steps in front of Mason Raymond to steal the puck. Vitale immediately flips the puck behind the net, where Chris Conner catches it and sets it down. Conner gives it back to Vitale, who is crashing the net and Vitale gets a soft shot off that Bernier can’t control. Vitale gets his rebound and backhands it across the crease to Conner, who can’t put it in the net. The rebound then bounces back to Vitale at the left side of the net on the goal line. Vitale throws the puck back to Brian Dumoulin at the top of the left faceoff circle. Dumoulin holds the puck, considers passing back to Bortuzzo on the opposite point, but decides to get into a shooting position and take a wrist shot. His shot bounces off of Dion Phaneuf’s leg, off of Conner’s stick blade, and into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Vitale (11), Dumoulin (1), Conner (4)

First Goal Against (Rielly)
Matt Niskanen is in the penalty box for roughing. Cody Franson grabs the puck behind his own net and skates it up through the Leafs zone. He passes the puck over to Morgan Rielly on the right in the neutral zone. Rielly enters the Penguins zone with speed on the right side to back Simon Despres off and then moves laterally across the ice to the top of the left faceoff circle. Despres attempts to keep up with him, but he can’t. Meanwhile, Joe Vitale has backed away from the area Rielly is occupying and gets caught covering no one and unable to step up in time. Rielly then takes a wrist shot that is partially tipped by Simon Despres as he’s reaching out to stop the shot. The puck flies past Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder before he can react.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Niskanen (11), Despres (4), Vitale (4)

Second Goal For (Crosby)
After Crosby loses a faceoff in Toronto’s zone, Robert Bortuzzo prevents a clearing attempt at the right point and throws the puck back down to Pascal Dupuis along the boards. Dupuis quickly throws the puck to Sidney Crosby entering open space in the slot. Crosby doesn’t even take a stride as he picks his spot and rips a wrist shot past Bernier’s glove.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Bortuzzo (1), Dupuis (20), Crosby (55)

Third Goal For (Sutter)
After Dion Phaneuf prevented a Craig Adams clearing attempt, Brandon Sutter stepped up on Phaneuf at the blue line and poke checked the puck away from him. Sutter got the puck, carried it to the red line, and then threw it into an empty net from center ice.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Sutter (12)

Penalty Assessment

Dumoulin (tripping): Bad, reaches out for a loose puck in the defensive zone and gets his stick blade into the skates of Nazem Kadri, bringing him down.
Bortuzzo (fighting): Inconsequential, gets knocked off the puck by Troy Bodie in his own zone and skates directly to Bodie for a fight. Partially good because he ended a Leafs’ offensive zone possession, but partially bad because he’s possibly the 2nd defenseman right now. Evens itself out.
Niskanen (roughing): Bad, tries to keep Nazem Kadri to the outside of the defensive zone and gets his stick and glove into Kadri’s face as he tries to push him.
Sill (fighting): Inconsequential, gets challenged to a fight by Troy Bodie after he hit Morgan Rielly cleanly. Sill agrees and they both go off for fighting.
Crosby (roughing): Bad-Stupid, after he avoids a flying elbow from Nazem Kadri, he decides to punch Kadri in the back of the head for a well-deserved penalty.
Zolnierczyk (unsportsmanlike conduct): Inconsequential, argues and jabs at Dion Phaneuf before a faceoff and both players go off for two minutes for a favorable trade-off.
Bortuzzo (check to the head): Bad, stands up on Jerry D’Amigo in the neutral zone as D’Amigo reaches for a puck and ends up getting him in both the chest and head at the same time.
Kunitz (tripping): Bad, reaches his stick out on Nazem Kadri in the defensive zone to try and poke check the puck but ends up taking out Kadri’s skates and taking him to the ground.

Player Assessment

Good
Maatta is such a veteran that he's fashionably late to goal celebrations now. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Maatta is such a veteran that he’s fashionably late to goal celebrations now. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Olli Maatta – Is Maatta 19 or 29? As injuries have turned the 19-year-old rookie into a veteran on this team, he is playing the part to perfection. He was second on the team in ice time (24:17) and led the team in penalty kill time (6:12). His poke check has turned into a thing of beauty before our eyes; it is already Martin-esque at this point. I marked him down for three poke checks that ended plays, three pass intereptions in the defensive zone, and great gap control on Phil Kessel especially all night. His only real issue was that he was knocked off the puck twice along the boards in the defensive zone. I think that’s acceptable for a kid who isn’t done growing yet. Olli Maatta is going to make a lot of veterans in front of him expendable very quickly.

Robert Bortuzzo – It took a few games for Bortuzzo to get back up to his regular game, but the results were quite visible against Toronto. Bortuzzo was an absolute pest all night and spent much of the game arguing with Toronto players over just about anything. In terms of actual play, he led the team with six hits, had three turnover-forcing poke checks in the defensive zone, and forced two turnovers with hits. He also assisted on the game-winner by Crosby when he kept the puck in the zone after Crosby lost the faceoff cleanly. Much like Maatta, the only issues he had were getting knocked off the puck in the defensive zone twice, but that’s a little inexcusable for Bortuzzo given his size and grit. His illegal check to the head penalty was bad too, but possibly unavoidable (more on that later).

Marc-Andre Fleury – I almost forgot to include Fleury here because allowing one goal and having a save percentage over .950 is basically the norm for this team now. The only goal he allowed looked shaky at first, but replays showed that Rielly’s stick blade collided with the stick of Despres as the shot was taken, making it much harder to read for Fleury. That was also clearly demonstrated by his reaction and surprise to the puck going top corner. Aside from that goal, Fleury was flawless. He stopped a partial breakaway on Mason Raymond and a chance alone in front by Jake Gardiner. He did everything he had to do in a 25-save performance.

Jussi Jokinen – I have often been underwhelmed by Jokinen this season, but he really steps up when the Penguins lose either Crosby or Malkin. Jokinen took over 2nd line center duties and was flying with the 2nd line all night. He went 9 for 11 in the faceoff circle, had two takeaways in the offensive zone, added a good forecheck on several shifts, and also good puck support in the defensive zone. Jokinen clearly acts like a natural center and played very well, even with linemates like Harry Zolnierczyk and Jayson Megna.

Megna now knows how a puck feels when it hits Bernier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Megna now knows how a puck feels when it hits Bernier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Jayson Megna – Megna’s speed was on display as usual as he drew a hooking penalty, almost had a breakaway on a blocked shot, and put together a tremendous forechecking effort all night. Unfortunately his night was cut short after a collision with Jonathan Bernier on that almost breakaway attempt. Megna appeared to injure his knee/leg and Dan Bylsma said that he is unlikely to play Wednesday in New York. His speed is a tremendous game changer when it’s matched up with talent, hopefully he will be back soon.

Noteworthy

Sidney Crosby – Crosby likely would have been in the Good category had he controlled himself a little better. He had two turnovers, one in the offensive zone on the powerplay and the other in the neutral zone. The big black mark on his game was a stupid retaliatory roughing penalty. After he avoided a flying elbow from Nazem Kadri, he was (understandably) angry and (not so understandably) punched Kadri in the back of the head. In a close game, that’s something the captain shouldn’t be doing. On the bright side, Crosby had two takeaways in the defensive zone (one off of a hit) and one in the neutral zone while he was backchecking. He also scored the game-winner, so I guess he’s not all that bad.

Son of Ulf. Son of Ulf. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Son of Ulf. Son of Ulf. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Philip Samuelsson – Samuelsson had a solid NHL debut with his dad watching from Mario’s box. He showed some of the jitters that Dumoulin had in the previous game, looking a little weak with the puck and turning it over twice in the neutral zone. However, he was very strong in the defensive zone as he broke up two plays in the slot and also forced a turnover along the blue line. The only other issue he really had was hitting Dupuis with shots (by my count, three). It was a good debut and a lot to build on for Samuelsson; he just has to watch the turnovers a little.

Bad

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz was the only player on the roster that I had more negative marks for than positive. He was rather quiet in the offensive zone. My only note was a takeaway in the offensive zone near the blue, after which he proceeded to carry the puck out of the zone and tried to throw it back in for an offside call. He did have a clutch moment in the defensive zone when he cleared the puck from the slot during a crazy scramble as well. His negatives though: losing the puck in the defensive zone, two neutral zone turnovers, and the tripping penalty on Kadri with a little over a minute left in the game. There was more risk and less reward in Kunitz’s game against Toronto.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Chris Conner continues to defy all odds and produce well.  Pascal Dupuis had a solid game and continues to look phenomenal on the penalty kill. Harry Zolnierczyk looked good in forechecking but couldn’t control the puck to save his life. Brandon Sutter stepped up with three takeaways and an empty-netter at the end of the game. However, he was knocked off of the puck a few times leading to giveaways. Brian Dumoulin recorded his first career point (assist).

It would be so nice to go a game without an image like this. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

It would be so nice to go a game without an image like this. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo Hit – After watching the Bortuzzo replays at various speeds several times, I am okay with the penalty and content with no further discipline. The Dept. of Player Safety ruled last night that they wouldn’t review the play further because it was an unavoidable hit (which the rule does have a clause for). It was also reported that the Leafs weren’t upset about it because they felt the size difference between the players was a factor. From my point of view, all of that is correct. Bortuzzo stood in place to make the hit and his whole right arm makes contact at the same time on D’Amigo. From D’Amigo’s torso to his head is hit by Bortuzzo’s glove to his shoulder all at the same time. The principal point of contact is literally half of his body. Since Bortuzzo didn’t drive into D’Amigo’s head and wasn’t even skating at that point, there is no need for further discipline. However, the penalty is spot-on because it still was a hit to the head and that’s still a penalty in that situation (don’t get me started on punches to the head).

Bortuzzo Fight – I know we’re all sick of talking about hitting, fighting, injuries, suspensions, etc. (Thornton appeal thoughts are in the last post), but the Bortuzzo fight was very interesting to me.  Bortuzzo had the puck along the boards in the defensive zone and got crushed by Troy Bodie on a clean hit.  Bortuzzo lost the puck to the Leafs at that point and Toronto dumped the puck back behind the Penguins net.  Meanwhile, Bortuzzo made a straight line to Bodie and challenged him to a fight, which Bodie accepted.  So basically, Bortuzzo lost the puck and gave possession to the Leafs, but then (likely unplanned) ended the Leafs’ possession by getting Bodie into a fight in the Penguins zone.  That’s one way of cleaning up your giveaway.  However, if Bodie refuses a fight at that point, Bortuzzo either gets 2 for roughing or the Leafs are playing in a situation where Bortuzzo is out of position.  I doubt Bortuzzo thought any of this through – it was probably all heat of the moment reactions, but it was an interesting fight just because of how it ended the play after he lost the puck.  If I was a Leafs fan, I would have been livid with Bodie for accepting that (insert sarcastic comment about “The Code”).

Breaking Down the Lines – Going into the game, I thought the lines looked ridiculous just because of who was left on the roster. However, the coaching staff did a great job of giving each line a niche and every line played to it perfectly.

  • With his arms up in the air, he's almost the height of an NHL player. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    With his arms up in the air, he’s almost the height of an NHL player. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    1st line – Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis: nothing needs to be said here, the top line forever

  • 2nd line – Zolniercyzk-Jokinen-Megna: An abundance of forechecking speed on the outside with a smart, skilled center that is very strong in the defensive zone. The line’s speed kept the puck in the offensive zone frequently and Jokinen covered back for them on every forecheck when it was necessary. The balance between zones was impressive.
  • 3rd line – Conner-Sutter-Vitale: Hockey smarts, lots of hockey smarts. Conner and Vitale are both undersized but know exactly what to do and where to go in both zones. Sutter is a brilliant defensive specialist with some offensive skill as well. This whole line was capable of predicting plays and the speed of Conner/Vitale could force them as well. They had a tremendous start to the game because they were reading things faster than Toronto could react.
  • 4th line – Adams-Sill-Kobasew: Grit and defensive intelligence. All three players are solid in their own zone and are not afraid to throw the body around. Any offensive chance they had was a bonus, but their main job was to keep the puck out of the net while the other guys rested and they know how to do that well.

The plan for the lines was very impressive; kudos to the coaching staff in moving players around like this.

AHL Defense vs NHL Defense – It has to be said: the Penguins young defensemen looked much more poised and rational against the Leafs than their veteran counterparts have often (ever?) looked. There are likely several explanations for this: they play a simpler game, they try to stay within their means, they have fewer instructions, they just don’t want to screw up. Regardless, the vets could learn a lesson from watching how the kids played against Toronto. The defense stuck to their positioning all game and didn’t try to force much. They let the forwards try to take care of the scoring. The Penguins are a talented enough team, even with half the roster out, that this strategy will work more often than not. The AHL defense just demonstrated how less can be more. I cannot praise them enough for a sane Toronto game.

Future Defense – It’s far too early to delve completely into this, but the level of play from all of the call-ups certainly makes Shero’s job more interesting. He’s being forced into evaluating his young talent and his young talent is passing every test. That makes all of the veterans just a bit more expendable than they used to be. This basically affects every guy out right now except Scuderi, since Orpik and Engelland (and Niskanen) have expiring contracts, while Letang and Martin aren’t exactly cheap. Shero is gaining a phenomenal set of trading chips at the deadline, whether it’s his young guys or his old. We’ll see where that takes him in a few months.

Pens Record: 24-10-1
Next Game: Wednesday, 12/18 @ NY Rangers, 8pm

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