Sabres 4 Pens 1
Iginla (10) (PP) from Kunitz, Malkin
- Brooks Orpik played in his 622nd game, the most ever by a Penguins defenseman
- Sabres outshot the Pens 29-20 and won the faceoff battle 34-23
- Pens outhit the Sabres 32-15
- Jarome Iginla led the team in shots with 6, Neal added 5
- Douglas Murray blocked 4 shots and had 5 hits
- Brooks Orpik had 7 hits
- Matt Cooke had 2 recorded giveaways
- Matt Niskanen led in ice time with 22:56 and Tanner Glass had the least with 8:47
- Brandon Sutter was 4/15 on faceoffs, Malkin was 9/23, Jeffrey was 7/10, Kennedy 3/6
Marc-Andre Fleury: If there were any questions about Flower’s health, he set those aside a night ahead of schedule when he came in to make 16 saves in relief for Vokoun. He looked especially strong on the penalty kill and handled a semi-breakaway nicely as well. He may not have Vokoun’s positioning, but he has the athleticism and flexibility to make up for it when the Pens are being lackadaisical in their own zone.
Jarome Iginla: Iggy had a very strong game and scored the only goal for the Pens, his first with the team. He looked very comfortable with Malkin and the 2nd line as a whole appeared to develop instant chemistry. He recorded a team-high 6 shots and also looked much more assertive than in his debut as he made a couple of offensive zone steals. Any hesitancy about how Iginla would fit into this lineup should immediately be discarded.
Douglas Murray: Crankshaft (gotta keep up with the nicknames at this point) also had a solid game, recording a team-high 4 blocks and also adding in 5 hits. He was especially strong on the penalty kill, playing 4:45 which was second to only Orpik. Murray wasn’t afraid to mix things up right away as he went after Patrick Kaleta early in the first period and he even found some sort of offensive game (kinda) as he led a couple of rushes and got into the mix in the offensive zone.
Penalty Kill: Even with the disappointment of a loss, everyone has to be happy with the 5 for 5 penalty killing performance the Penguins put on. Murray and Orpik did one hell of a job on the PK, as did Dupuis, Adams, Cooke, and Glass. The Sabres came in with an awful powerplay (28th in the league), but a 5 for 5 PK performance against anyone is notable.
Chris Kunitz: So begins the “Kunitz misses Crosby” era. Kunitz recorded ZERO shots, took a bad penalty, and only played 16:26 (5:38 on the PP) in this game. He did get a primary assist on Iginla’s goal, but his 5 on 5 play was less than noteworthy. It will be interesting to see how his time on ice fluctuates in Crosby’s absence since his 5 on 5 play will surely be less effective with Kennedy (or Jeffrey or anyone else) as his center. Kunitz is still a solid player on his own, but he’s not going to get top line minutes when the top line is Iginla-Malkin-Neal now.
James Neal: Neal recorded 5 shots and continues to look much better in the offensive zone with the time and space that Malkin gives him. However, his interference penalty against Kaleta was the ultimate selfish and mind-boggling play that makes you question if Neal has the mindset of a 12 year old at times. Neal, attempting to get revenge for a clean hit that Kaleta put on him seconds earlier, went after Kaleta and knocked him down along the boards while the puck was not near either player. It’s a textbook call and plain stupid by Neal. Be less selfish, James.
Tomas Vokoun: Not every night can be perfect, especially after 2 shutouts and a 3rd partial shutout. Vokoun had his off night to end the streak, but it wasn’t COMPLETELY on him. The first goal was a nice shot after an awful turnover by Niskanen. The second goal was definitely stoppable, though Eaton may have been screening Vokoun a bit. The third goal was painful to watch as Vokoun got caught on the post and couldn’t get across to the other post for a wrap-around. That’s definitely the type of play he is susceptible to. The goal that led to his exit was a tough break – the puck glanced off of Engelland’s skate and through Vokoun’s 5-hole. Vokoun was playing the puck as if it was gonna go across the crease like its trajectory would suggest, so it’s hard to blame him for that. It was just a tough night for the backup goalie.
Mark Eaton: Eaton’s performance over the last week and a half or so is starting to drop off slightly. It has coincided with an increase in his minutes which makes you wonder if he isn’t ready/able to handle that kind of workload in a condensed season. His positioning is still solid, but he seems a little more hesitant when attacking the puck and he appears to be backing off of oncoming players quicker. Perhaps it is just a speed bump in his season, but it’s something to watch out for as he had a hand in 2 goals against vs the Sabres.
New Guys: I’ll keep this section in here for the next few games. Iginla had a great game as stated above. He already looks comfortable with Malkin and Neal. That line should have no problem taking over the workload in Crosby’s absence. Brenden Morrow continues to look slow, yet smart. He both drew a penalty and took a penalty in this game (which should have drawn another penalty but didn’t). He had 4 hits as well. Morrow knows what to do but his inability to keep up easily shows you why Dallas was ready to part with him. Finally, Douglas Murray is still a beast. Blocking shots, throwing hits, and even jumping into the offensive zone – he is doing it all right now. I’m not sure anything frightened Ryan Miller more in this game than seeing Murray start with the puck in the defensive zone and skate hard all the way towards the crease.
Lineup: The lineup will be ever-changing, so I won’t get too much into this (Kennedy didn’t even finish on the first line, so why bother). There is a huge question of how Joe Vitale does not dress though. There are only 2 dependable faceoff guys on this roster and one has a broken jaw. The other was in the press box for some reason. Vitale should be kept in the lineup for his faceoff ability alone and probably deserves a shot at the 3rd PK forward pairing too. Dustin Jeffrey continues to “almost” score on the top line and generally struggles on the 4th line. Vitale is a much better fit as the 4th line center and would give Bylsma a scenario-based faceoff guy when necessary. Malkin and Sutter are awesome, but neither is dependable for a big faceoff win.
Crosby Effect: The offense will obviously drop off with Crosby out of the lineup, but 1 goal is rather unacceptable against Buffalo (who traded away 2 NHL defensemen this week) when the top line is still Neal-Malkin-Iginla. My point here is, forget the Crosby effect. Every team in the league will miss their top player but the Penguins are the only team who can replace their top player with the league’s reining MVP. Kunitz will undoubtedly see the biggest drop off in this situation, but there is still plenty of scoring up and down this lineup to make up for Crosby’s absence. Lament the losses of Letang and Martin instead. 4 goals allowed is bad but understandable right now. 1 goal scored makes no sense.
Offense: Continuing with the previous point, the Penguins only had 20 shots, 13 of which came from the combination of Neal-Malkin-Iginla. The remaining 7 shots were from Dupuis (3), Jeffrey (2), and Kennedy (2). Kunitz? Sutter? Cooke? ENTIRE DEFENSE? Hurry back Letang, you’re needed greatly right now…and that’s coming from me.
Streak: The streak ends at 15 and with a perfect March. While it’s a shame that the Penguins won’t challenge their own record, there are more important things to focus on moving forward. This team has a month to work on chemistry and eliminate any bad habits they have. The streak showed us the potential that the Penguins have and it made the rest of the regular season almost meaningless with a massive lead in the division. Now it’s time to take advantage of that and aim for perfection heading for the playoffs.
Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.