Thoughts: Game 26 – Penguins vs Islanders

Pens 6  Islanders 1

Dupuis (10) from Kunitz, Crosby
Kunitz (15) (PP) from Neal, Crosby
Kunitz (16) (PP) from Neal, Crosby
Kunitz (17) from Letang, Crosby
Neal (17) from Letang
Dupuis (11) from Crosby, Kunitz

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  • Chris Kunitz recorded his first career 5 point game
  • The Pens dominated in faceoffs (39/58) led by Vitale (7/7), Sutter (12/18), and Jeffrey (9/13)
  • The 1st line (Dupuis, Crosby, Kunitz) recorded 13 of the team’s 28 shots
  • Brooks Orpik led the team with 4 hits
  • Tyler Kennedy had the least playing time at 12:22, Letang the most at 23:31
  • Based on the NHL stats, Mark Eaton was a team high +4

The Good

Chris Kunitz sock monkeys

Sock monkeys storm the ice to cheer on Chris Kunitz. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Chris Kunitz: His first ever 5 point game, his 4th career hat trick, and a leap to 3rd in the NHL in points, 2nd in goals, and 1st in plus/minus…it’s safe to say Chris Kunitz is on fiiiirreeee. By the way, he only played 14:05 too. Kunitz, who is often the beneficiary of Crosby’s playmaking, also benefited from some great setups by James Neal. At this point, Kunitz knows what to do with the stars around him and the stars around him know what to expect. It’s simple, Kunitz just has to drive the net, find open space, and his teammates will get the puck to him. It’s safe to say he’ll finish the play. This is a special run we’re watching here.

Sidney Crosby: Another player on quite a special run, Crosby added 5 assists to his league leading total to push it up to 33, 6 ahead of 2nd place. Crosby also now leads the league in points by 8 with 45. Just like against Toronto, Crosby had a bad giveaway early in the 1st and then turned his game into perfection. He is doing a great job of creating time and space for others players (which is why he had a plethora of secondary assists tonight) and continues to lead the 1st line to dominance. When his turnovers are under control, no one even comes close to improving the players around him like Crosby does. Kunitz and Dupuis would surely agree.

Pascal Dupuis: Speaking of the 3rd musketeer on the top line, Dupuis had a nice 2 goal night even though he couldn’t come away with the hat trick that the rest of the team was forcing. Dupuis has been tenacious all over the ice and it has created opportunities for his linemates to pick up loose pucks and turn them towards the net. The sequence that led to his second goal was a great example of his forechecking ability and how it can force the opposing team directly into his linemates. Crosby has an abundance of talent and vision, Kunitz adds grit and positioning, and Dupuis does every little thing possible to keep them all together. They are just a wonderful sight to watch right now.

James Neal: Unfortunately he was snubbed from the 3 stars, but Neal had a strong 3 point night with perfect passes on both Kunitz PP goals and a breakaway goal of his own. The second line overall was quiet with Neal, Jeffrey, and Bennett, but Neal made up for it with his powerplay work and simply staying responsible on the 2nd line. Even if he can’t produce much without Malkin on the 2nd line, all he has to do is be smart and the chances will come, just like on his goal.

Tomas Vokoun: Vokoun quietly made some strong stops in a solid, 23 save effort to turn his recent starts around. He wasn’t tested too frequently, but appeared to be much more confident in his game and played higher on the crease than he had in the last few games. It was a great sign after his good performance in relief against Philadelphia and it’s safe to say Vokoun is trending back up again.


Matt Niskanen: Niskanen had another inconsistent night, looking strong in the offensive zone but a little less sure of himself in the defensive zone. He had some great shots from the point, but looked somewhat uncomfortable around his own net, especially when he was out with Despres. On the other hand, he seemed to play well when he rotated in with Letang, so it may have just been a familiarity issue. All in all, it was an okay night for Nisky, but he still hasn’t regained his early form that had him pushing the top defensemen.

Mark Eaton: I thought Eaton looked very sluggish in the first period and had trouble with the Islanders speed initially before adjusting accordingly. The nice thing about Eaton is that he did exactly that, he adjusted as the game went on and made up for his shortcomings against the Isles. He somehow ended up with a +4 (though he was Even in my system) and played a generally good game. It will be interesting to see if they play him against Boston.

The Bad

Tanner Glass Islanders

Tanner Glass is still looking for his first point of the season. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Simon Despres: It would have been easy to throw Despres in here simply for his awkward looking fall over the blue line that led to a goal, but that had little to no impact on his inclusion in this section. His second period was well below par aside from that moment because he failed to get back for multiple potential icing calls and also committed a couple of turnovers. Both he and Niskanen seemed on edge with each other a bit but Despres demonstrated more of that on the ice in the form of poor play. It’s surely just a bump in the road, and perhaps a sign that he should be paired with Engelland again next game.

Tanner Glass: Glass continues to baffle me game after game. He played 13:12 in this one, recording no discernible stats aside from 1 hit. On my notepad, I had him marked down for turnovers in all 3 zones and an ugly fanned shot attempt in the slot, all in the first period. I cannot for the life of me figure out why his play has gone downhill since his strong start to the season with the 4th line, but something needs to change for him quickly.

Misc. Thoughts

Lineup Decisions: I was very surprised that Jeffrey moved to the 2nd line center role instead of bumping Sutter up to the 2nd line and moving Jeffrey to the 3rd. The 3rd line hasn’t done enough on the ice to warrant sticking with them as a unit and Neal/Bennett likely would have benefited more from having Sutter. With Malkin out 1-2 weeks, we’ll see if Bylsma sticks to this. On the defensive side, I was not overly surprised to see Engelland benched because of the speed the Islanders have, but I was quite disappointed as last game was the first good one Engelland had in a week. The defensive decisions are going to be very tough each game with 8 defensemen, and I do not believe that’s a sustainable situation. I would expect Engelland to get back into the lineup against Boston, but I really don’t know what to predict anymore with Bylsma and his D. I have certainly given up all hope that Bortuzzo will touch the ice without an injury though.

Defensive Presence: Orpik made it well-known on his first shift that he was not going to sit idly around the crease in this game and he tried his best to clear the crease early on. It was a much improved effort, and the Penguins as a team cleared the slot area much better than their previous few games. The key to the penalty kills were getting to loose pucks in the slot and chipping them out of the zone cleanly. Another big key to the overall defense was simply intercepting pucks in the slot and constantly having a forward in that area looking for passes and loose pucks. The Pens protected the front of the net well and were rewarded with only 1 goal against.

Isles’ Woes: While the 6-1 win was joyous on many levels, the Isles also had plenty of bad breaks and a dismally executed game. My basic point is: if that was a strong, talented team, the Penguins left enough openings that it would have been a close game. The Isles missed on several offensive zone passes that the Pens failed to defend and they had quite a bit of bad luck with broken sticks and bad bounces. While this will happen to every team at some point, the Pens surely got the best of it tonight.

Random: Joe Vitale was dominant on faceoffs and made a case for his lineup inclusion on that alone once Malkin returns.  Kris Letang really is a phenomenal talent with the puck, but I am growing more and more concerned about his entries into the offensive zone (and how they are ahead of a forward or 2 usually). Tyler Kennedy seems to be improving back towards his average, slowly but surely. His defensive play has been very strong lately even though his offense is still lacking. Cooke, Sutter, and Bennett all deserve credit for strong defensive play as well. The Penguins really do have an exceptional amount of forwards that can play strong defense when they put their minds to it.

Get the full Goal Assessment here: CrosbyFTW