Playoff Thoughts: Game 5 vs Senators

Semifinals Game 5:  Pens 6  Sens 2

Pens Win Series 4-1

Goals
Morrow (2) from Eaton, Cooke
Neal (4) (PP) from Letang, Crosby
Letang (3) from Kennedy, Orpik
Malkin (4) from Neal
Neal (5) unassisted
Neal (6) from Malkin, Letang

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Stat Leaders

Shots: Letang (6)
Missed Shots: Eaton & Neal (2)
Blocked Shots: Adams, Cooke, Martin, & Niskanen (2)
Hits: Cooke (5)
Ice Time: Letang (24:19) … Iginla (10:09)
Faceoffs: Crosby (21/31) … Malkin (2/8)

The Good

James Neal goal celebration

James Neal is back to being all smiles now that he's scoring again. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

James Neal: I said it after last game; Neal looked healthy for the first time in a while and was skating well again.  Game 5 was your reassurance.  Neal put up 4 points, including a hat trick, in just 12:42 of ice time.  He had 5 shots on net (7 attempted) and looked strong all over the ice for the second game in a row.  The balance of power appears to be shifting to the second line and it was clear that Ottawa just could not contain Malkin and Neal (oh, and Iginla) with everyone healthy.  Offensive output aside, Neal was even strong on the backcheck with a couple of neutral zone pass breakups.

Matt Cooke: Cooke set the tone early in this game and put the Senators on a downward spiral they would not be able to recover from.  He led the team with 5 hits and added 2 blocked shots in a strong physical game.  He also assisted on the first goal of the game when he won a race for the puck in the Senators zone and snapped a pass back to Mark Eaton, who put the puck on net for Morrow’s goal.  Cooke’s physical presence forced turnovers for the Penguins and pretty much told Ottawa that Pittsburgh was taking this game by force.

Kris Letang: Letang bounced back from a rollercoaster Game 4 with a mostly positive Game 5.  He was much stronger in the defensive zone, making several poke checks that broke up passes and generally keeping his position.  He also added quite a bit offensively with a goal and two assists.  The only blemishes on Letang’s resume for Game 5 were a turnover in the neutral zone as he tried to skate around an Ottawa forward and a missed poke check which led to the Turris goal.  Luckily for Letang, the Penguins were up quite a bit before he had any big defensive lapses.

Noteworthy

Sidney Crosby Daniel Alfredsson

Two legendary captains head in very different directions now. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen: Niskanen played a much better game after looking completely awful in Game 4.  He had a rather quiet night, accumulating 2 blocked shots and no other major stats in 17:43 of ice time.  That is the type of night Niskanen needed to have though after several questionable games in the playoffs this year.  He did a solid job of keeping forwards to the perimeter and not letting players get past him to the crease.  While he didn’t do anything spectacular to knock him up to the good category, it’s nice to see him playing strong defensive hockey and getting out of the bad category.

First Line: The first line had a very quiet night and did not score any goals as a unit in the final game against Ottawa.  Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis did not play bad by any means; they just didn’t add as much as they usually do in the offensive zone.  Dupuis was strong on the PK, Crosby was solid on faceoffs (21/31), and Kunitz had a couple of very responsible covers in the defensive zone for Martin and Letang.  It was a good night for the group, but it just didn’t meet their normal standards of having an amazing night.  Luckily, they weren’t really needed.

The Bad

None: For the first time in the playoffs, every single player on the team made more positive plays than negative plays.  The Pens really played the perfect closeout game to a series and hopefully they can keep this level up in the next round.

Misc. Thoughts

Tomas Vokoun save

Vokoun has gone above and beyond backup duties for Pittsburgh. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Player Usage: With the offensive output of the past two games, Bylsma has done a fantastic job of spreading time out among his forwards.  Every single forward fell into the 10-20 minute range, which meant more rest for the Crosby side of the roster and more work for the Adams side.  Both aspects will be valuable as the Penguins move on, both for rest and the sake of experience and trust.  Two big takeaways from how players were used – 1) Iginla only played 10:09, a surprisingly low amount that is probably due to Martin taking a spot on the first powerplay now, and 2) Bylsma really trusts everyone in this lineup in any situation.  I wouldn’t expect to see any lineup changes without injury at this point, even if someone has a bad game (two bad games in a row might be a different story).

Goalie Situation: Vokoun earned another win, earned a series win, and has certainly earned starting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.  We have hit the point where I will take this out of the regular postgame segment because this is Vokoun’s team unless/until something drastically changes.  I still don’t believe we have seen the last of Fleury, but there’s no point in even thinking about it until that time comes.

Officiating: The referees continue to be horrible in every game of every series.  The phantom hooking penalty on Crosby was nonsensical, especially when he was hooked later in the game with no call.  Looking to the other side, Kyle Turris getting two for a hold when Kunitz got two for a slash was also crazy.  It should have just been Kunitz getting 2 for a slash.  I can’t comprehend how the officiating has been this inconsistent and poor night in and night out.  It’s inevitable that a series or game 7 will change because of a bad call at this point.

Defensive Work: The Penguins played their best game overall on defense as a team in Game 5.  They cleared the crease for Vokoun, kept Ottawa limited to shots from the perimeter, and never let anyone behind them (except Letang’s one gaffe).  It was textbook defense and the Senators had no answer for it whatsoever.  The most they could manage in the first period and a half were just long shots from the blue line.  When the Penguins play defense like that, with the offense that they have, there is no chance they will lose a game to anyone.  Unfortunately, Boston will be a much tougher team to clear out of the crease area.  Cue Douglas Murray.

Series Thoughts

Sergei Gonchar Sidney Crosby

Gonchar's defense fell apart in the final 2 games of the series. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Series in Review:

  • Game 1 – Special Teams set the tone as the Penguins take a 1-0 series lead.
  • Game 2 – Crosby’s hat trick sends Anderson to the bench early and the Sens to a 2-0 series deficit.
  • Game 3 – Anderson outdoes Vokoun in a double OT thriller after the Penguins blow the game with 30 seconds left in regulation.
  • Game 4 – Penguins overcome shaky start for an offensive explosion and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
  • Game 5 – Neal’s hat trick puts an exclamation point on a series win for the Penguins.

Series MVP: Tomas Vokoun.  There were questions surrounding Vokoun entering the series and there *should* be none exiting the series.  He played very well for the Penguins, wasn’t at fault at all for the one loss in the series, and never looked shakier than giving up a couple of big rebounds.  This series was filled with a variety of scorers and the Penguins could have done well without one or two of them, but they absolutely needed Vokoun in this series.  This team has the confidence and swagger back that they had in the regular season.  Thank the goalie for that.

Overall: There is no question that this was the easiest series the Pens will have in the playoffs this year.  The Senators didn’t have the depth on offense or defense to keep up.  Additionally, Anderson was completely outmatched when he didn’t have help.  This was a nice opportunity for the Penguins to regroup after the Isles series, get back to their game (had to say it), and find some confidence in themselves before moving on to a tougher matchup.

Playoff Outlook: 8 down, 8 to go.  As the Penguins are now halfway to their goal, take a moment to look back at what the first half has given us.  First, it was insanity, panic, bad defense, and a goalie change in the Islanders series.  Then it was offense, discipline, dominance, and special teams in the Senators series.  With *hopefully* two more to go, buckle up for what should be a crazy ride.  Entering the playoffs, I wanted to play the Senators the most and the Islanders the least in the first round.  Each team provided a difficulty level as expected, easy and marginally tough respectively.  The next opponent (90% Boston) will provide a different challenge and a tough series.  I expect it to be much closer than the Ottawa series, but not as mind-numbingly ugly as the Islanders series.  The next series should finally be the first real taste of playoff hockey for the Penguins.  Let’s face it, they haven’t had a series yet like the ones we’ve seen out West.

+/- Assessment

1st Goal For (Morrow): + for

  • Jokinen – picks off a pass while backchecking and throws the puck up the boards
  • Cooke – wins the race to the puck, pulls up, and passes to Eaton entering the zone
  • Eaton – sends the puck towards Morrow on the crease
  • Morrow – has the puck go off of his stick, his right skate, and into the net

2nd Goal For (Neal): + for

  • Malkin – passes the puck from the right half boards up to Martin at the point
  • Martin – passes the puck down low around the boards to Crosby behind the net
  • Crosby – keeps the puck going to Letang on the left half boards
  • Letang – skates the puck down to the corner and passes to Neal at the left faceoff circle, then gets Neal’s rebound and banks it off of Anderson where it sits in the crease
  • Neal – takes a shot from the left faceoff circle, then crashes the crease and puts Letang’s rebound into the net

3rd Goal For (Letang): + for

  • Kennedy – retrieves a loose puck in the corner of the defensive zone and skates it to the offensive zone before passing to Letang on the left
  • Letang – skates the puck in, cuts to the middle and fires a wrist shot past Anderson

1st Goal Against (Michalek): – for

  • Murray – in the penalty box for delay of game penalty
  • Orpik – hits Spezza behind the net, but doesn’t tie up his stick or impede his ability to play the puck
  • Cooke – doesn’t have his head on a swivel and doesn’t notice Michalek sneaking into the crease area for Spezza’s pass

4th Goal For (Malkin): + for

  • Neal – gets a loose puck in the neutral zone caused by Malkin’s backcheck and sends it back to Malkin entering the zone on a breakaway
  • Malkin – backchecks to force a turnover, then gets the pass from Neal and rips a wrist shot past Anderson on the breakaway

5th Goal For (Neal): + for

  • Neal – picks off Gonchar’s pass in front of the crease and beats Anderson with a wrist shot

2nd Goal Against (Turris): – for

  • Letang – reaches for a poke check and misses the puck, thus losing a step on Turris who skates past him and scores

6th Goal For (Neal): + for

  • Letang – circles around his own net and outlets the puck to Malkin
  • Malkin – takes the puck up and moves it to Neal in the neutral zone
  • Neal – toe drags the puck around Karlsson and snaps a wrist shot past Anderson for the hat trick

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