Playoff Thoughts: Game 4 vs Islanders

Quarterfinals Game 4: Isles 6 Pens 4

Series Tied at 2

Neal (1) from Malkin, Iginla
Malkin (2) from Iginla, Fleury
Sutter (1) from Morrow, Cooke
Dupuis (4) from Kunitz, Crosby

| TPN Recap |

Stat Leaders

Shots: Dupuis (4)
Missed Shots: Crosby (4)
Blocked Shots: Letang (3)
Hits: Cooke (5)
Takeaways: Letang (3)
Giveaways: Letang & Kunitz (2)
Ice Time: Letang (26:17) … Glass (5:26)
Faceoffs: Jokinen (6/6) … Crosby (4/18)

The Good

Dupuis goal celebration

For some unknown reason, Dupuis is shocked to get a puck past Nabokov. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

First Line: This is really the only line that is operating at full capacity across all three players.  Kunitz, Crosby, and Dupuis put forth a massive effort in the defensive zone and also scored a go-ahead goal early in the 3rd period.  While they weren’t constantly an offensive threat, and you would like to see Sid’s line score at will, their work in the defensive end makes up for it.  In the end, the line was on for a goal for and no goals against; that’s exactly what you need to see from everyone.  On an individual basis, Kunitz excelled in puck support, Dupuis had a fantastic forecheck, and Crosby’s best work was done on crease and slot defense.  It was a very underrated performance for the top line.  The one major flaw was Crosby’s faceoff work though, going only 4 for 18 in faceoffs.


Jarome Iginla: While many are still clamoring for Iginla to be moved back to the right side, and there is plenty of merit in that opinion, Iggy still had a solid game on his off wing.  He assisted on the Penguins first 2 goals and played a decent game on the boards in helping with clears and puck battles.  The biggest mistake in his performance was on the 4th goal against where both he and Morrow got sucked way too deep in the Pens zone and completely neglected the Islanders at the points.  Overall though, it was a good game for Iggy.

James Neal: Neal’s comeback went as well as you could expect with a goal, a takeaway, and 2 hits in 16:19 of ice time.  He showed no skating issues despite whatever leg injury he had and he brought an improved defensive presence to the 2nd line with good puck support and some hard backchecking.  Though he didn’t shoot the puck as much as we would like, his overall game was solid.  I could have done without the end of game scuffle though after his late season concussion.

Douglas Murray: Murray continues to be the ONLY consistent and competent Penguins defenseman every game.  He had a bit of bad luck as the 4th goal against went off of his skate as he was boxing a man out of the crease, but he did a great job aside from that.  I had him marked down for 2 above average poke checks and 2 perfect instances of standing a forward up at the blue line.  He appears to be the only defenseman that is confident in his decision-making and knows when to back off, when to step up, and when to just lead a puck carrier a certain way.  Forget the physical presence, Murray doesn’t need it against the Islanders and he knows it’s too much of a risk to chase them. His mindset has been perfect this series.


Matt Cooke: Cooke has done a great job of getting under the Isles skin (5 hits) and has been excellent on the PK.  However, he does need to stop going to the penalty box (2 minors).  Cooke went to the box for interference and goaltender interference, the latter of which led to a powerplay goal for the Islanders.  While I agree Cooke gets a raw deal on many calls, he also knows that and needs to play within the limits that the refs give him.  At some point, it has to be his responsibility too when he knows he gets called tighter than everyone else.  As for the goalie interference, Nabokov absolutely dove like he was shot on that play, but it was still interference nonetheless.  Both players should have been called for it, but when was the last time you saw a goalie get called for diving?  Penalties aside though, give Cooke all kinds of credit for Sutter’s goal.  His forecheck to knock Carkner off the puck and his subsequent legal interference on Carkner at the crease completely allowed that goal to happen.

The Bad

Fleury bad goal

It's not completely Fleury's fault, but he's the first scapegoat of 2013. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury: It was an ugly game for MAF, there’s no other way of describing it.  The fascinating thing isn’t just in the gaffes he committed, but how they were committed.  Going through his goals – The first goal was due to a screen. On slow motion replay, he reacted as soon as he saw the puck but it was just too late with where Sutter was standing.  The 2nd goal was off of a turnover, but Fleury also never set himself and looked like he was fighting off the puck completely.  Both Orpik and Fleury looked like a mess on that play.  The third goal was another mess.  Fleury couldn’t control a rebound, got himself into perfect position, then was hit by Crosby which slid him out of position.  Fleury still should have been able to make the play because he was prepared with his stick down, but he inexplicably wasn’t ready as the puck came to him and bounced off of him and in.  The 4th goal was off of Murray’s skate, nothing he can do there.  The 5th goal was off of a turnover and then rebound after he made a great initial save.  He was bowled over by Malkin as the rebound came out, so no blame to Fleury there.  The 6th goal was very interesting to me.  It’s all on Fleury, who attempted a poke check as Cizikas came around the outside of Niskanen but had the puck bounce off of his right hand and in the net.  Why is Fleury poke checking there? Niskanen kept Cizikas to the outside and Cizikas barely had a lane to move the puck towards the net with one hand.  If Cizikas stays to the outside and beats Niskanen while Fleury poke checks, that’s a doable wraparound chance.  Fleury should have just been covering his post.  That to me displays a huge lack of faith in Niskanen to hold off Cizikas to the goal line.  Forget the confidence we have in Fleury.  How much confidence did Fleury even have in his defensemen as that game wore on?  That 6th goal was Fleury trying to anticipate a very low percentage play, but it also tells me he is worried about low percentage plays with how the defense has played in front of him.  If that’s the case, then it’s a huge problem.


Brooks Orpik: After clamoring for Orpik repeatedly in my last thoughts post, I am faced with the reality that Orpik looked awful in his return from a lower body injury.  He had several turnovers, failed clearing attempts, and added a cross-checking penalty on top of that.  Despite the fact I just listed his faults in one sentence, I can’t begin to describe how bad he actually was. I had him marked for 8 mistakes, which is just far too many for a defensive defenseman.  Part of it was probably he wasn’t 100% for the game, but there were too many mental errors.  Orpik could take a page out of Douglas Murray’s book here.

Kris Letang hit

Letang was getting punished at the red line, leading to some stupid icing plays. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Kris Letang: Letang had another ugly game, featuring numerous giveaways in the defensive zone and a couple of very bad icing decisions as well.  His game progressively fell apart as he played some of his worst shifts late in the 3rd period when the team needed him the most.  Much like how Eaton struggled with Martin, Letang’s freestyle skating and decision making caused problems in the defensive zone for everyone else he was on the ice with.  One thing I am noticing more and more in this series is that while Letang has the talent and ability to skate with the Islanders, his partner usually doesn’t.  So while Letang can often recover, his defensive partner does not know what to do while Letang is getting back in position and it causes chaos as everyone slides into the wrong positions and the defense starts chasing too much.  This is not purely a knock on Letang by any means, I am suggesting that maybe the problem right now with Letang and whoever he is paired with is the talent gap is too great and the Islanders are a quick enough team to cause panic for everyone.  Letang may do well to utilize a little less of his overwhelming talent and stick to the system more, specifically for the other players on the ice with him.  If that means creating less, so be it, the defense needs to improve right now regardless of how it happens.  He also just has to be smarter with the puck right now.  His puck management was simply awful (again, turnovers and icings).  Finally, what on earth was that cross-check of the linesman?  When is that ever a good idea?  Nothing will come of it, but seriously, what was he thinking?

Evgeni Malkin: Malkin was fantastic at times and he was also awful at times.  Unfortunately, the awful outweighed the fantastic.  On the positive side, he had a goal and an assist, drew a high sticking penalty, had several good backchecks, and was strong on the boards in the offensive zone.  However, he had numerous powerplay giveaways, passed the puck out of the offensive twice, and took two penalties (one when retaliating and one as he was late on a backcheck).  He also had an awful turnover in the defensive zone that led to the 5th goal against.  (Sidenote: Malkin was credited with no giveaways, which can only mean that stats keepers were drinking for every giveaway and had passed out after the first period).  In fact, Malkin had a hand in all 3 of the Isles goals in the 3rd period.  Doing nothing would have been more favorable than how Malkin played at the end of that game.  Geno really just needs to calm down and read the ice as he sees it rather than trying to force things or make brilliant plays.  Keep it simple and accept what the Isles are leaving open.

Misc. Thoughts

John Tavares goal

The 5th goal against illustrated many of the Penguins' problems in one fell swoop. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes: The fourth line isn’t doing a whole lot right now.  Glass had plenty of trouble on the boards with breakouts and Adams looked great on the PK but not noticeable elsewhere.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Glass sit for the 2 failed breakouts he had in just 5:26 of ice time.  When Niskanen can move the puck, good things happen, but he had several failed clears (even 3 on one shift).  The defense as a whole just isn’t very strong on the puck, there were a lot of clearing attempts that stopped short or just “didn’t have enough mustard” on them.  Brenden Morrow seems completely unable to get to his game if the D can’t get the puck in deep.  He has struggled in the neutral and defensive zone at times.


Adjustments:  Give credit to the Pens for the things they did change.  Early on, the defense played closer to the Isles forwards and the breakouts were via shorter, quicker passes.  As the game wore on though, turnovers in the defensive zone blew up everything.  Unfortunately, a shorter pass that goes to the wrong team is much worse than a pass intercepted in the neutral zone.

Goalie Change: As we know already, Tomas Vokoun will get the start in Game 5.  I believe this is the right move, largely because I don’t think Fleury has any confidence in his defensemen as I stated above and he is quickly losing confidence in himself.  More than anything, I think putting Vokoun in sends a big message to this team about accountability.  That locker room adores Fleury, and they all are fully aware that it’s their fault Fleury is sitting on the bench now.  Just like how some teams play better after coaches are fired because they realize what they did cost a guy his job, I expect this team to wake up and realize they cost Fleury his start and try to remedy it.  That being said, I don’t think we have seen the last of Fleury.  If I was Bylsma, I honestly would have told MAF, “Listen, those were some tough goals you let up but I know it isn’t just about you.  However, you need to refocus and the team needs to refocus as well.  I think starting Tomas will get their asses in gear, so focus on your game in the meantime and we’ll get back to you next round.”  Yes, I would start Fleury in Game 1 of Round 2.  He is my starter until he blows a game with the defense playing well.  Starting Vokoun is more about the team than it is about the goalie situation.  This is their wake up call.  I truly don’t believe Fleury lets up some of those ugly goals if he has any confidence in how the defense in front of him is playing.  We’ll see what happens.

Lineup: Many people are calling for the Iginla/Kunitz switch, but honestly I am fine with it either way.  I think both lines are playing fine on offense and really, offense isn’t the problem.  Iginla has looked better over the past two games and the first line always looks fine.  I honestly think both lines will succeed on offense no matter how that decision goes, it’s just a discussion point on the side right now.  As for the rest of the lineup, I’m ready to see Kennedy in for Glass.  Glass just isn’t doing anything and Kennedy can do nothing just as well with more upside to his game.  I thought some of Kennedy’s best games this year were on the 4th line, so give him a shot.  That’s probably the only change I would make though.  Let’s be honest, the roster isn’t the problem, it’s the mental mistakes that are the problem.

Crosby fight jaw guard

Gotta feel bad for the guy who gets matched up with Sid and his Shredder mask. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Biggest Problems: Puck management (giveaways/turnovers) and defensive positioning.  Mike Colligan pointed out in an article that when one player gets out of position, the whole system tends to collapse.  What we are seeing time after time is a bad giveaway, then multiple players out of position, and then everyone scrambles with no clue who to cover or where to go.  The amount of times that the Isles have an open man with room to shoot is astounding.  Also, the forwards seem to be sneaking deeper into the defensive zone to help the defense, but it’s leaving guys on the point wide open which just creates passing lanes and shooting lanes for the Isles to work with.  There has been some awful positioning in this series by the Penguins forwards and defensemen.

Underlying Issue: At least in Game 4, I really question everyone’s confidence in each other.  Fleury had little confidence in the defense.  The defense had little confidence in each other.  The forwards had little confidence in the defense.  You can see all of it by how players are sliding to support each other.  No one would ever say it out loud, but guys were either sliding early or staying closer to where the puck was most of the time.  There was a lot of anticipating mistakes in the defensive zone, which led to coverage mistakes.  As the game wore on, the team mentality looked more like “something wrong is about to happen” which consequently led to something wrong happening.  The best example is on the Isles 4th goal, where 5 Penguins are below the defensive zone faceoff dots staring at 2 Islanders behind the net with the puck.  Everyone is ready to cover for a mistake; no one is ready to cover the 3 guys high in the zone.  The puck ends up high in the zone, and no one is ready to cover that mistake.  As everyone scrambles to find a guy to cover, the puck goes in off of Murray’s skate.  It’s not a series mentality to worry about because it is often an in-game idea that is erased from memory at the end of the game.  A strong first period in Game 5 would make this whole paragraph a moot point.  However, the Penguins haven’t played strong since Game 1, so it might be a dynamic to watch as Game 5 goes on.

Isles Fans: Just a quick note on everyone calling Isles fans classless for cheering when Sid got hit with the puck up high.  What was your reaction to Brent Johnson punching out Rick DiPietro?  What is your reaction still to this day?  Sorry Pens fans, you’re not better than Isles fans on the whole.  Calling out specific people out of their fan base for stupid comments doesn’t represent their fan base.  The same thing can be done to ours.  Calling them bandwagoners?  We have a heavy bandwagon fan base too.  Just be glad they’re watching hockey and accept the fact that every fan base has its idiots.

Series Outlook: Well, the series is tied at 2 now, which is usually completely acceptable.  However, the manner in which it has arrived there is troubling for the Penguins.  They have not played well since Game 1, but stole a win in Game 3 to keep home ice advantage.  It’s a best of 3 series now and the Penguins have 2 games at home.  The Penguins still have the edge in many ways – home ice, talent, experience, and even in their backup goaltender.  Now the question is…will they GIVE IT AWAY.  Personally, I’d still bet on the Pens.

+/- Assessment

1st Goal Against (Strait): – for

  • Letang – loses a puck battle that is him and Morrow vs Cizikas
  • Morrow – loses a puck battle that is him and Letang vs Cizikas
  • Sutter – sets a screen on Fleury and doesn’t block the shot

1st Goal For (Neal): + for

  • Murray – stands up Tavares at the blue line, causing a turnover
  • Niskanen – gets the puck off the turnover and moves it up to Iginla in the neutral zone
  • Iginla – gains the blue line and passes to Malkin entering the zone
  • Malkin – draws the defender to him and then passes right to Neal
  • Neal – one-times the puck past Nabokov

2nd Goal Against (Tavares): – for

  • Cooke – in the penalty box for interference
  • Adams – doesn’t get the puck deep in the zone with 2 guys ahead of him
  • Orpik – fails on a weak clearing attempt he falls over
  • Dupuis – partially blocks Orpik’s clearing attempt and then doesn’t get out to Streit
  • Fleury – never gets himself set for the shot

2nd Goal For (Malkin): + for

  • Iginla – moves the puck up to Malkin in the neutral zone
  • Neal – enters the zone with Malkin on a 2 on 1 to keep the defender honest
  • Malkin – fires a wrist shot past Nabokov

3rd Goal For (Sutter): + for

  • Letang – gets to the red line and dumps the puck in over everyone’s head
  • Cooke – gets to the corner and knocks Carkner off the puck so Morrow can retrieve it, then impedes Carkner in front of the net while Sutter has the puck
  • Morrow – peels to the corner and passes across the slot to Sutter
  • Sutter – holds the puck and then beats Nabokov glove side

3rd Goal Against (Okposo): – for

  • Crosby – skates through Fleury, knocking him out of position
  • Fleury – has his stick down and is ready for the puck but still lets it through as it bounces off of him and into the net

4th Goal For (Dupuis): + for

  • Orpik – passes up to Kunitz on the boards
  • Kunitz – passes to Crosby entering the neutral zone, takes a pass back from Crosby and passes it up to Dupuis at the blue line, take another pass from Crosby, and shoots the puck towards Nabokov
  • Crosby – gets a pass from Kunitz and drops it back for him, takes a pass from Dupuis and drops it back to Kunitz
  • Dupuis – goes straight to the net after passing to Crosby and tips Kunitz’s shot past Nabokov

4th Goal Against (Streit): – for

  • Malkin – fails to clear/gives the puck away at the defensive blue line
  • Morrow – skates too deep into the zone to handle the points
  • Iginla – skates too deep into the zone to handle the points
  • Murray – has the puck deflect off of his skate as he’s scrambling to maintain coverage and it goes in

5th Goal Against (Tavares): – for

  • Orpik – turns the puck over deep in the zone
  • Malkin – turns the puck over at the faceoff circle, doesn’t recover enough to cover Tavares, and partially takes out Fleury on the rebound chance

6th Goal Against (Cizikas): – for

  • Malkin – turns the puck over in the offensive zone
  • Fleury – goes for a poke check unnecessarily and has the puck bounce off of his hand and in

Playoffs +/-:  Click here for the Playoffs +/- Spreadsheet