Thoughts – Game 31: Penguins vs Capitals

Pens 2  Caps 1

Martin (6) (PP) from Crosby, Bennett
Niskanen (4) from Cooke, Crosby

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  • Four players had 4 shots each (Cooke, Crosby, Martin, Niskanen)
  • Deryk Engelland led with 5 blocked shots (Martin next with 4)
  • Matt Cooke had 6 hits (Next was Dupuis with 4)
  • Brandon Sutter had 2 takeaways
  • Paul Martin led in TOI with 28:14. Vitale had the lowest (6:36) and Glass had 8:40
  • Crosby went 16/26 on faceoffs after starting 3/8. Sutter went 9/14, Jeffrey was only 3/12, Vitale 1/5

The Good

Paul Martin goal

Paul Martin celebrates his 6th goal of the season. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Paul Martin: In a solid performance by both teams, Paul Martin was EASILY the best player on the ice against the Caps. Whether it was blocking shots (4), deflecting passes, stepping up in the neutral zone, or scoring a powerplay goal, Paul Martin could do no wrong on the ice. He led the team in PP time (3:20), PK time (6:26) and was 2nd in even strength (18:28) to total 28:14 in picking up minutes for Letang’s absence. A player who can play at that level for almost 30 minutes? That’s called a contender for the Norris trophy.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury continued his incredible stretch of games from last week, allowing just 1 goal on 29 shots and making several point blank saves on early coverage breakdowns. His anticipation is at its best right now as well, clearly demonstrated by his attempt to stop Ovechkin’s PP goal. That sounds crazy since it was a goal, but Fleury was in position after a bad bounce off of Niskanen’s leg and Ovechkin just barely beat him by hitting the post and having the puck deflect in. Dare I say, Fleury looks in Stanley Cup form right now?

Matt Niskanen: It’s very relieving to put Niskanen here after a long stretch of average to below average games from him. He relied more on his poke check than his hitting game (0 hits) and ended up with 3 blocked shots and a great defensive performance because of it. Of course, he also contributed nicely with the game-winning goal in the 3rd period and had quite a few nice shots on the PP as well. Welcome back, Top 4 version of Niskanen.

Brandon Sutter: The NHL credited him with 2 takeaways, but I had him marked down for 4. Sutter played a fantastic game in the neutral and defensive zones and had a solid night in the faceoff circle too (9/14). Even when he has a quiet offensive night (1 shot), you can look forward to him being perfect in the defensive end.

Deryk Engelland: Engelland was very strong positionally against the Caps and it paid off on the stat sheet with a team-leading 5 blocked shots. He did a great job of staying in between puck carriers and the net and forced Ovechkin to the outside and behind the net on more than one occasion. Engelland has shown the ability to play up to situations where he needs to shut down a star and Ovechkin seems to bring out the best in him.


Chris Kunitz: What’s this? Kunitz had a down game? It was downright awful for the standard he set this season, but on a normal playing field, it was just average. He was still solid in the defensive endbut struggled with puck control and decision making on offense. He had a couple of bad passes and also took the tripping penalty that eventually led to the Caps only goal. This was the first game this season where I had to mark Kunitz as a minus in my +/- ratings (hit the link at the bottom if you’re curious). It’s okay Kunitz; we’ll let you have this one.

Sidney Crosby: Despite the positives of assisting on both goals, Crosby was far from his best when it came to possessing and protecting the puck. Much like Kunitz, he had a couple of bad giveaways and made some questionable decisions with the puck in the offensive zone that led to breaks the other way. Huge props to him for his 2:19 of PK time, especially when Cooke was in the box for 4 minutes, and his faceoff improvement through the game though. Crosby started 3/8 in the first period and finished 16/26 in the game which provided a nice boost for the Pens down the stretch. Sid had a decent game, just not as perfect as the guys in the category above.

James Neal: I had no notes on James Neal in the Caps game. Zero. I’m not sure that has ever happened before. Hurry back Geno.

The Bad

Beau Bennett: As the games turn more and more into playoff atmospheres, Bennett seems to be getting a little more inconsistent and might be wearing down a bit. He had a rough game all over the place: getting beat in the defensive zone, fanning on shots in the offensive zone, and forcing passes on a couple of great shooting chances. This may sound absurd, but I hope he gets to be a scratch once or twice down the stretch just to get a breather and settle down a bit. He has made a massive career jump this season and no one should forget that.

Misc. Thoughts

Alexander Ovechkin Caps

Ovechkin and the Caps looked better than advertised. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Caps Performance: The Capitals weren’t perfect and Ovechkin had more than his fair share of misfires, but they played a strong game overall and really gave the Pens a good game. That wasn’t the look of a team struggling to stay out of last place, but more like a team that is worthy of the Top 8 in the conference. Don’t discount it because it was Washington, that win was a hard earned two points.

Enjoy the Streak: The Pens have now won 10 games in a row. They are the first franchise to do that in 3 consecutive years in NHL history. In 2 weeks, the trade deadline will be upon us and the roster will likely undergo at least a slight change. Enjoy the roster right now. Enjoy how everyone is playing right now. Be thankful you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan because most fan bases don’t get to sit back and enjoy what we have now.

Time for a Breather:  The Pens just finished a stretch of 8 games in 13 days.  They went 8-0.  Only Malkin and Letang were injured, and both could be back as early as Friday.  Whether it be luck, skill, or a combination of both, it is amazing that the Pens went on their streak during the most grueling part of the schedule and basically stayed healthy during it.  It’s crazy, but things may get even BETTER.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.