Thoughts: Game 24 – Penguins vs Flyers

Main Storylines:

  • Paul Martin returns to the lineup after missing 2 games. Despres and Bortuzzo are the defensive scratches
  • Beau Bennett is on the second line and Joe Vitale is scratched for Dustin Jeffrey as the 4th line center

Pens 5 Flyers 4

Kunitz (13) from Letang, Crosby
Dupuis (8) from Crosby, Kunitz
Neal (15) from Bennett
Kennedy (3) from Cooke, Sutter
Kunitz (14) from Crosby, Dupuis

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  • The Pens were outshot 18-4 in the first period and then outshot the Flyers 12-3 in the second
  • Dustin Jeffrey was the only center to win over 50% of his faceoffs (4/7)
  • James Neal led the team with 6 shots, 6 PIM, and 4 hits
  • Beau Bennett played 14:14, blocking 2 shots and recording 2 takeaways on the 2nd line

The Good

Beau Bennett Flyers

Beau Bennett celebrates a goal with the second line. (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Beau Bennett: Bennett received much more time than expected, 14:14, and earned every second of it with pure effort all over the ice. Whether it was stealing the puck in the offensive zone or diving to stop a shooting chance in the defensive zone, Beau gave 110% all night. He actually played more than Dupuis and was only a minute behind Neal and Kunitz. I seem to include this every time I mention Bennett, but his awareness and hockey sense is incredibly strong for a kid in his first year as a pro. The Penguins might not need a top 6 winger as much as they thought.

Chris Kunitz: Is it time to start the #CenterforKunitz campaign?? (kidding) It was another 3 point night for Kunitz, who has moved into 3rd in the scoring race behind Stamkos and Crosby. Beyond the scoring output, he did a great job of using his big presence in the neutral zone to clog up lanes and deflect a couple passes. Tinkering with the first line is very ill-advised right now.

Evgeni Malkin: The biggest statement of the game for the Pens, and quite possibly the turnaround point, came from Evgeni Malkin. I’m sure you are confused because Geno recorded no points in this game. What did he do? Before Neal cut the lead to 4-3 (and before Bennett stole the puck to make that happen), Malkin and Voracek got tied up in front of the net and then in the corner. Voracek pretty much manhandled him. What did Malkin do? Nothing – he skated away, got back into position, and then drove towards the crease. What was the result? He didn’t take a penalty, didn’t retaliate, didn’t even look twice at Voracek, and eventually drew Coburn out of position as Neal’s pass/shot banked in off of Coburn and into the net. I couldn’t have asked for a better, smarter shift out of Malkin. That is a huge step forward for him and the team. That’s the leadership by example that this team needs.

Sidney Crosby: Crosby continues to tear up the league offensively, adding 3 more assists to give him 39 points (4 more than Stamkos). He also has improved his defensive game significantly since the Carolina game where he looked lost. Crosby had 3 great defensive plays: a steal at the blue line in the defensive end, a pass interception on the crease in front of Vokoun, and he covered a Flyers 2 on 2 break when the Pens were on the PP. Add to that his offensive passing and his dominant puck possession at times, and Sid put together a complete game. Again, more leadership by example for the team.


Tomas Vokoun: I have Vokoun just a notch below “Good” because he didn’t have anything exceptionally challenging to do. He did his job and looked confident coming in for Fleury after the first period. He made 14 saves on 14 shots over 2 periods (which is 4 less shots than Fleury faced in the first). He didn’t do anything flashy or spectacular, but he didn’t need to either. It was a solid outing for Vokoun and hopefully a turnaround game for him.

Tyler Kennedy: His play is on the upswing again and he finally put a puck in the net.  More important than the goal though, TK did a great job in the neutral zone with and without the puck.  Instead of the frequent turnovers we have grown to loathe, he had a takeaway and was very smart with the puck.  Hopefully Kennedy can take this performance and start trending up, whether it be for the team’s sake or for trade value.

The Bad

James Neal Flyers

James Neal gets into an altercation as he leaves the penalty box. (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

James Neal: Many will argue that the penalties against Neal were unwarranted, so here’s my take. The first penalty was iffy at best. It certainly wasn’t an elbow, that’s for sure. At the same time, Neal put himself in position to take a penalty based on the extension of his arms high on Giroux. I realize Giroux ducked, so it looked worse than it was, but if Neal keeps his hands low or uses his body, nothing gets called there. Fact is, he still put himself in a situation for it to be called, rightly or wrongly. The fight/rough with Hartnell as he left the penalty box was embarrassing and unwarranted. Neal has to skate away from that, and even though it drew a powerplay, that was poor form. Personally, I thought both players should have gotten a 10 minute misconduct for that. The slashing penalty was a good call I thought. Crosby had already whacked at Bryzgalov’s glove and the whistle had already blown. A second whack by a different player who had just skated in was definitely excessive. All in all, as the top goal scorer on this team, Neal should not be spending that much time in the penalty box and he needs to be smarter about his play against Philly. It’s no shock that the refs are looking for things to call, Neal should know that.

Marc-Andre Fleury: It’s been quite a while, but Fleury finally let up a bad goal and he looked a little uncomfortable throughout the first period. He seemed to have problems redirecting his rebounds and holding on to the puck and it cost him in the end. The first goal snuck through him even though he got a piece of it. The second goal was a bad rebound to give up in front of the net. The third goal was through a screen by Engelland, but it’s still one Fleury has to save when the puck is shot from against the boards. Finally, the 4th goal was just some bad luck as the puck hit multiple skates. Hopefully he can just shake it off and move on.

Deryk Engelland: Engelland played 12:42 and didn’t record much in the way of stats, but he did show some decision-making issues. The two highlights (lowlights?) of that turned into Flyers goals. The first time it cost the team was on Rinaldo’s rebound goal in front, where Engelland leaned on Rinaldo and tied him up, but then let him go as soon as the puck was shot from the point. In that situation, Engelland has to stay on Rinaldo to keep him from a rebound, not release and go for the puck. The second time was on Timonen’s goal where he screened Fleury. Engelland started to skate out to Timonen, but then hesitated and stopped between the shot and Fleury. He has to get a block there if he isn’t going to skate out to the shooter. Engelland has been serviceable for much of the season, but a 3rd line defenseman can’t play a part in 2 goals against and stay in the lineup.

Misc. Thoughts

Adjustments: All the credit in the world to the players and the coaching staff for how they adjusted after the first period and a 3 goal deficit. The Pens shortened up their passes, increased their forecheck, and stayed positionally sound after the first period. The defense also stayed back much more and let the forwards get to work. The 4 unanswered goals scored by the Pens after the 1st period included ZERO defensemen on the stat sheet. It was largely because the defense activated less and stuck to their positions, which also killed many of the Flyers’ counter-attacks. It was the perfect change to subdue Philly and the coaching staff deserves credit for making it. Also, the Penguins calmed down quite a bit after the first period and I’m sure the intermission talk had a lot to do with it.

Lineup Choices: There were a lot of question about why Vitale was scratched and how Despres could sit. Based on my assessment on Engelland, it’s clear Despres should be in (and it was clear before this game too). Despres has the size to be physical and has grown quite well over the past month; it’s time to give him a chance in the everyday lineup. He has earned it. As for Vitale, I didn’t mind the move in this game. Jeffrey is better defensively and more versatile for playing on other lines (read: 2nd line if Bylsma wants to protect Bennett). I’m sure Vitale and Jeffrey will continue to be rotated in and out as the season continues.

Trade Rumors: As people continue to go nuts over Jack Johnson and Jarome Iginla, here’s my two cents. (FYI: the Pens had scouts for LA-Dal last night and NJ-Buf as well) Johnson is overrated, overpaid, and unnecessary for this team unless a veteran defenseman is leaving. I don’t expect that to happen without some sort of injury. Iginla will probably cost a lot. If you have ESPN Insider, here is a link to a nice Craig Custance article about the expected trade returns for some players. If you don’t have insider, here are a couple pertinent ones. Iginla: Grade A prospect, conditional 2nd rounder that becomes a 1st depending on playoff results. Corey Perry: NHL player, 1st round pick, NHL worthy prospect. Jaromir Jagr: a 2nd and 3rd round pick. Dustin Penner: 2nd round pick. Brenden Morrow: B level prospect and a conditional pick based on playoff success. Sergei Gonchar: 2nd round pick + a little extra. Robyn Regehr: B level prospect + 4th round pick. So, who do you want? What are you willing to give up?

Realignment: Realignment is in full swing and the Pens will be in a division with NYR, NYI, Phi, NJ, Car, Cls, and Was. I love it. I hope Ovi comes back to life and re-creates the Pens-Caps rivalry. The Staal narrative will never end with Carolina now. Finally, there is a new geographical rivalry filled with Columbus invasions. The Penguins couldn’t have asked for anything more basically.

If you want the full goal assessments, visit CrosbyFTW.  Thanks for reading!