Thoughts: Game 36 – Penguins vs Islanders

Pens 2  Isles 0

Cooke (6) from Engelland, Kennedy
Neal (18) from Malkin, Murray

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  • The Pens outhit the Isles 30-12 and won the faceoff battle 39-22
  • The team is now on a shutout streak of 208:24, an ongoing franchise record
  • Tomas Vokoun is the first goalie in franchise history to have back to back shutouts
  • James Neal led the team with 5 shots (with another 2 missed)
  • Brooks Orpik had 4 blocked shots
  • Three Penguins had 4 hits each: Adams, Murray, Niskanen
  • Niskanen also led with 3 takeaways
  • Tyler Kennedy played the least (of those who played the whole game) with 9:55
  • Craig Adams played an unusually high 15:25 (4:50 on the PK) and was 8/9 on faceoffs
  • Tanner Glass went 4/4 on faceoffs and Brandon Sutter was 16/21

The Good

Matt Cooke Mark Eaton

Sometimes, goal celebrations get a little too emotional. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Matt Cooke: There is honestly no way to accurately describe just how important Matt Cooke was against the Islanders.  He drew a penalty, came up massive on the PK (especially during the 5 on 3), blocked 2 shots, scored the opening goal, turned down Matt Martin for a fight, and then crushed Martin just seconds later on the boards.  Cooke was every bit of character and energy that the Penguins needed all summed up in one player.  Watching him elevate his game when the team needed a hero was a real treat.

Tomas Vokoun: Vokoun is now the first goalie in franchise history to have back to back shutouts (and he even had a shared one before that).  He had another wonderful performance, stopping all 35 shots he faced and keeping the Pens in the game when they were outplayed in the first period.  Vokoun’s technique is perfect right now – no excess movement and perfect positioning.  I would expect that he and Fleury will split the upcoming back to back games on Tues/Wed, but I don’t envy Bylsma trying to figure out which hot goalie to pick right now.

Craig Adams: With significant penalty killing time and Crosby out, Adams received a boost in minutes and took advantage of it in every way aside from scoring.  Adams finished with 15:25 of ice time, recording 2 blocked shots and 4 hits.  He also went 8 for 9 in faceoffs which was a huge boost in Crosby’s absence.  Adams is usually worth his effort for the PK alone, but his 5 on 5 game has improved considerably over the last 2 weeks.

Mark Eaton: It’s embarrassing to look back at how I questioned the Eaton signing.  It’s even more embarrassing that 29 other GMs in the NHL didn’t even consider it.  Eaton had another strong game, of course anchored by his PK work, as he finished with 20:20 and a blocked shot.  His work on the 5 on 3 was pure excellence as he gave up no openings for passes around the net or across the crease.  He may not be a physical defenseman, but his positioning is far more valuable than most hits.  The Pens still haven’t lost with Eaton in the lineup.


Tanner Glass: Glass is continuing to improve every game and it might be enough to keep him in the lineup at this rate.  He had another set of good offensive rushes with Cooke, blocked 1 shot, and also recorded 3 hits.  Surprisingly, he also went 4 for 4 in faceoffs as well.  There seems to be a lot of chemistry between Glass and Cooke when they are on the ice together, so that might be something to consider in the future.

Tyler Kennedy: Kennedy is also improving his game on a daily basis and this has continued for a few weeks now.  He won a key faceoff that led to Cooke’s opening goal and also played very well in the defensive end, recording a takeaway in the slot.  He only played 9:55 and looked very lost when he was placed at center on the top line, but his 3rd and 4th line work is lineup worthy.

Jarome Iginla: Iginla didn’t have a great debut, but it was nice to see him in a Pens jersey nonetheless.  I won’t read into his game too much since he arrived in Pittsburgh before the game and didn’t practice or even meet half of his teammates beforehand.  I think the biggest adjustment he will have to make is realizing that he has linemates that are more capable than him since he has never been in that situation. He looked a little lost on what to do when Malkin and Neal were playing their usual styles.  One thing to watch for – MANY wingers have had problems working on the 2nd line because Malkin and Neal form an exclusive duo so frequently.  It’ll be interesting to see if Iginla is the guy that fits there or if it should be someone else.  Most comical part of the game: Iginla holding the puck behind the net in the offensive zone and Malkin skates through and just takes it from him.

The Bad

Chris Kunitz: Kunitz was on pace to end up in this section before he was thrown out of the game, so that just added to it.  The one “concern” with how hot Kunitz has been through the first 30+ games is that his percentages have been WAY above normal (he was shooting at a 30% rate at one point).  Eventually, those averages come down to normal, so don’t be shocked to see more wide open misses like he had in the first period with a gaping net.  He also took a bad hooking penalty while the Pens were on the powerplay, and of course, the checking from behind penalty that ended with a game misconduct.  I’ll get more into that in a bit.

Matt Niskanen: Niskanen had a huge chance to shine with Martin and Letang out of the lineup, but he didn’t look up to the task at all.  He lost multiple puck battles on the boards and made an ill-advised pass that sent Michael Grabner off for a breakaway (stopped by Vokoun of course).  He did record 3 takeaways and 4 hits (no clue where the 3 takeaways came from), but generally didn’t look ready to step into the spotlight against the Isles and their speed.  Niskanen will still have at least 2 more games to show off, so let’s hope he does.

Misc. Thoughts

Sidney Crosby puck to the face

Crosby's status and smile have the NHL on watch right now. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

New Guys: In his 3rd game with the Penguins, Morrow recorded 3 shots, 1 block, 1 hit, and 1 giveaway in 14:13 of ice time.  The questions about his speed certainly look valid already but his offensive zone work is improving with every shift.  In his 2nd game, Murray had an assist, 2 blocks, and 4 hits in 21:31 of ice time.  He has been a rock in the defensive zone (though looked a little foolish when he missed a hit) and has provided a decent shot from the point.  Murray is amusing to watch and almost looks like a toddler on skates when he thinks he will get beat by a quick skater, but he is very effective and knows his limits well.  Murray’s most understated trait might actually be that he knows his limits and how to work within them.

Kunitz Hit: Of course, the Kunitz hit sparked a wide range of reactions, controversies, and opinions.  Thoughts ranged from it shouldn’t have been penalized at all, to it was just awkward, to the penalty was warranted, to he should be suspended.  Upon watching it a few times, I think a 2 minute minor for checking from behind would have been appropriate.  It was definitely awkward with Bailey’s positioning and how Bailey tried to fight off Kunitz but lost the battle.  However, at least in my opinion, Kunitz got his shoulder into Bailey’s back, so checking from behind was warranted.  I can’t blame the refs for calling it 5 at full speed, that’s just a tough call.

Fourth Line Competition: Everyone on the 4th line has elevated their play drastically over the past week and that can surely be attributed to the massive competition to get a lineup spot with the new acquisitions.  Adams and Kennedy have improved notably over the past 2 weeks.  Glass has looked especially useful in the last 2 games since the trades.  Vitale also looked good last game before getting scratched for Iginla against the Isles.  Every role player is making Bylsma’s lineup choices difficult and he really can’t pick wrong with how they are playing right now.

Injuries: Letang is still out at least 2 more games. Fleury backed up Vokoun against the Isles and should be ready to start this week.  Paul Martin is out 6 weeks (probably through the first round of the playoffs) with a broken bone (looks like wrist) that will require surgery.  Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely after taking a puck to the face against the Islanders which required oral surgery after he lost teeth.  In regards to Crosby, there is still no CREDIBLE word on whether his jaw was broken or not at the time that I’m writing this.  If you still follow HockeyyInsiderr, burn in hell.

Streaking: The Penguins finished March a perfect 15-0, the first team in NHL history to finish a month undefeated that had 10 or more games.  The offense was strong at the start of the month, the defense and goaltending kicked in at the middle, and the goaltending led the way at the end.  While the Penguins have generally improved through this crazy streak, they now face their toughest test with Martin and Letang out of the lineup.  That’s basically two Norris potential defensemen that are sitting in the press box with injuries.  Look for the offense to pick up the slack to start April now.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.

– @HockeyMeesh