Thoughts: Game 32 – Penguins vs Islanders

Pens 4  Isles 2

Vitale (2) from Adams
Kunitz (19) from Crosby, Dupuis
Sutter (9) from Cooke, Neal
Dupuis (15) from Crosby, Vokoun

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  • Matt Niskanen led the team in shots (5) and missed shots (3)
  • Deryk Engelland and Paul Martin each had 3 blocks
  • No player on the team had more than 2 hits
  • Pascal Dupuis had 2 takeaways while Sidney Crosby had 3 giveaways and Brandon Sutter had 2.
  • Trevor Smith played 10:24 in his debut with the Penguins
  • Martin led the team with 25:40 of ice time, Tanner Glass had the least with 9:25
  • Faceoffs: Crosby (11/18), Jeffrey (7/11), Vitale (3/3), Sutter (8/19)

The Good

Tomas Vokoun win Islanders

Tomas Vokoun celebrates a 33 save effort and win. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tomas Vokoun: He may not look very agile as he moves laterally.  He may even look like a life alert victim who cannot get up at times.  No matter how he looks though, Tomas Vokoun knows how to get the job done.  He stopped 33 of 35 shots and bailed the team out during numerous onslaughts as the Isles put up 14 shots in each of the first and second periods.  If you’re wondering why Vokoun started – it’s a given Fleury starts vs Philly and you don’t want Vokoun going over a week between starts after how it affected him before.  I would expect his next start to be against Winnipeg on Thursday.

Matt Cooke: Despite rumors of a foot ailment, Cooke appears to be skating harder and stronger than at any other point of this season.  He was a forechecking machine against the Islanders and was very strong in the defensive end, especially on the boards.  Cooke topped it all off with a beautiful play as he waited out Matt Carkner on a 2 on 1 so he could slide a pass to Brandon Sutter for what would be the game-winner.  Apparently this whole team plays better when sick/injured.

Craig Adams: Adams celebrated his alma mater’s NCAA victory with a rowdy effort.  He got into a fight (and was checked for a concussion), landed 2 hits, had a big block on the PK, and assisted on the first goal of the game.  He led a very strong effort by the 4th line, not only with the assist, but also by drawing a holding penalty in the offensive zone.

Simon Despres: This kid should never be benched again.  In what was an ugly game for Pittsburgh, Despres managed to play close to perfect hockey.  He was quick to clear pucks from the crease, made some great passes in the offensive zone, and showed off his physical game by knocking players off of the puck.  Despres has really learned his strengths and weaknesses in the NHL and is playing in a way that boosts his abilities and hides his defects.


Sidney Crosby: Crosby’s issues in this game centered mostly on giveaways (one in each zone) and blind passes that didn’t connect.  He was generally strong in defensive zone coverage and did a nice job of setting up Kunitz’s goal, but he certainly fell into the habit of forcing plays when the Penguins were behind on the scoreboard.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Sid feels he has to force things a little more with Malkin and Letang out of the lineup.

Brandon Sutter: Sutter did a great job in the defensive end and was clutch as usual with his game-winning goal early in the 3rd period.  However, his faceoff numbers (8/19) and decisions with the puck (2 giveaways) left something to be desired still.  Much like the rest of the team, it appeared Sutter was caught off guard by the Isles’ speed in the first period and had quite a few problems with covering guys in the slot in front of Vokoun.  As the game wore on though, he figured it all out and settled down into a solid game.

Matt Niskanen: Niskanen was okay in the defensive end but he had problems clearing the puck multiple times on the boards.  He really made his mark in the offensive end though, recording 5 shots (and another 3 misses).  The nice thing about Niskanen at the point is that every shot is low and has the potential to be redirected or turn into a rebound.  He has a great point presence on the powerplay.  He just needs to get a little more consistent on D right now.

The Bad

Dustin Jeffrey: Jeffrey had a subpar game in the defensive zone.  He was destroyed on the faceoff that led to the Isles 1-0 lead in the first period and he looked very light on the puck in the defensive zone all night.  I marked him down for 2 defensive giveaways, not from bad passes, but just because he didn’t put enough on the puck on clearing attempts.  It would be nice to see Jeffrey play with more authority like Sutter has come around to doing over the last week or two.

Misc. Thoughts

Sidney Crosby shot Islanders

Crosby might be forcing things a bit until Malkin returns. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Injury Report: Evgeni Malkin was placed on the IR (retroactive to his injury) and is already eligible to return when available.  He remains day-to-day and was put on the IR to make room for Trevor Smith’s call up.  Kris Letang also remains day-to-day at this point.  Tyler Kennedy was scratched due to an “illness”.  With the 11 game win streak and a huge gap in the standings, they can all take their time and get to 100% before coming back.

Dealing with Speed: As usual, the Pens struggled against a speedy team for some unknown reason.  The Isles really took it to the Pens early and finished the game with an edge in shots (35-25) and takeaways (12-5).  That takeaway battle is the key number the Pens always lose against quicker teams.  Eventually, the Penguins did adjust and provided much more support along the boards for puck movement and clears.  Maybe they just have to see the problem happen before they believe it exists and try to fix it.

4th Line: The 4th line appears to be returning to their early season form finally.  They put together a few dominant shifts in a row that put momentum in the Penguins’ favor and slowed down the Islanders quite a bit.  Vitale’s goal was even a bonus after all of the hard work they put in at the end of the first period.  When the 4th line is a plus, there’s an extremely high chance the Penguins will win no matter how they are playing.

Penalty Numbers: Over the course of this win streak, I’ve noticed that both the penalties taken and the penalties drawn have dropped quite a bit.  We have only seen 3-5 combined powerplays per game lately and that has played heavily into the Pens favor since they can run 4 legitimate NHL lines against anyone.  The big test for this will be on Sunday against Philly.

Unearned Wins: Another thing we’ve seen over this streak has been what I’m going to now call “Unearned Wins.”  The biggest two examples of these have been against Toronto and in this Islanders game, where the opposing teams have simply dominated for long periods but the Pens find a way in the end.  The Pens have also had very tight, playoff-like games against Boston and Washington where they came through with big wins.  Simply put, good teams find a way to win these games and bad teams find a way to lose them usually.  Chalk one up for knowing how to win.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.