Thoughts: Game 38 – Penguins vs Rangers

Rangers 6 Pens 1

Dupuis (18) from Bortuzzo, Morrow

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  • The Pens were outshot 39-27, lost faceoffs 36-28, and lost the takeaway battle 13-1
  • The penalty kill went 1 for 4
  • James Neal had 5 shots, followed by Kunitz and Despres with 4 each
  • Despres also had 3 blocked shots
  • Brenden Morrow had 6 hits
  • Despres also had the only recorded takeaway for the Penguins
  • Faceoffs: Vitale 3/9, Malkin 11/24, Sutter 11/20, Kennedy 0/3, Glass 0/3, Adams 3/4
  • Malkin had the most ice time with 21:14

The Good

Nothing: Absolutely nothing.  Simon Despres was close.


Matt Niskanen: Another game without Martin and Letang and we’re still waiting for Niskanen to step up to fill some portion of that void.  He increased his shot output (3) and was 2nd on the team with 20:53 minutes played, but his defensive work continues to fall apart.  Niskanen has been getting outworked in the corners and looks downright confused at times – highlighted during McDonagh’s goal where Nisky backed away from the shooter and the net.  I understand he didn’t want to screen Fleury, but he might as well have turned it into a breakaway.  That decision showed a real lack of courage, confidence, and guts.  Forget the offensive improvements Nisky, just get back to defense now.

Robert Bortuzzo: Bortuzzo looked like a man who hadn’t played an NHL game in over a month, so it was a rather fitting performance for him.  He did figure in on the Penguins’ only goal at least, throwing a long shot at Lundqvist that created a rebound for Dupuis to finish off.  In general though, he looked hesitant and lost in the defensive zone.  He played 18:41, which I can imagine he wasn’t ready for as his usual TOI was 11-12 minutes when he played earlier this season.  This game turned into baptism by fire for Bortuzzo even if it wasn’t his first NHL experience.

The Bad

Brooks Orpik Rangers

Ryane Clowe celebrates as Brooks Orpik watches his turnover on the big screen. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Penalty Kill: Apparently the loss of Mark Eaton to some illness destroyed the penalty kill.  They went 1 for 4, allowing 3 goals on 3 shots during the first 3 penalty kills.  Whether Eaton would have made a difference or not is tough to tell based on the 3 goals (plenty of broken plays involved) but the Pens certainly struggled with covering guys down low and were slow to shift into their proper positions.  The Rangers had no problem winning puck battles 5 on 5, so 5 on 4 was a breeze to them.

Brooks Orpik: No one, I mean no one, misses Paul Martin more than Brooks Orpik.  Martin’s fluid skating ability, strong puck movement, and ability to cover more than his fair share of space had helped Orpik greatly in simplifying his game all season.  Paired with Engelland in this game, Orpik looked like a train wreck.  He lost the puck multiple times in the defensive zone (kindly marked down as Rangers’ takeaways by the statistician), took a bad cross-checking penalty, and couldn’t clear the puck or start a planned breakout.  The worst play by far was when Orpik held the puck as Stepan forechecked him.  Orpik proceeded to lose the puck instead of doing ANYTHING with it, leading to Ryan Clowe’s 1st goal of the season.  I’m not sure if that was a lack of trust with Engelland or a brain cramp, but Orpik is not the same player when he’s not paired with Martin.

Brenden Morrow: It sucks to admit this, but Joe Nieuwendyk knew what he was doing when he got rid of Morrow.  His lack of speed/quickness is not only noticeable, but flat out detrimental in the defensive zone.  That’s not a new system thing, that’s not an adjusting to linemates thing, that’s an ability issue.  Morrow’s biggest shortcoming gave the Rangers plenty of extra opportunities because he was unable to get to the boards quickly enough to chip pucks out of the zone and help out on clears.  When the Penguins struggled with this early in the season, it was because players weren’t doing their job.  With Morrow, he knows exactly what to do, but he just struggled getting there in time.  Almost every note I have on him from the game was “failed to help with a clear.”  Hopefully he finds a way to make up for that.

Deryk Engelland: As mentioned above, Orpik and Engelland did not form a good pairing together.  Engo’s lack of speed/quickness also showed up as an issue against a very hard Rangers forecheck.  He lost the puck multiple times and had a few failed clears as well.  The most disappointing part of his game was watching him get knocked off the puck in the corners.  When Engelland can’t bring his size into play, his value drops very quickly.

Douglas Murray: If you haven’t figured out the theme yet, it’s slow and steady won zero races against the Rangers.  It was more of the same thing with Murray, a plethora of failed clears and bad defensive turnovers (again, nicely marked as takeaways by statisticians).  Murray struggled to stay in position and often had communication issues with Niskanen as they tried to slide on coverages.  It didn’t help any that he received little help from the forwards either.

Misc. Thoughts

Brenden Morrow Rangers

Brenden Morrow skates away as the Rangers celebrate another goal. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New Guys: As stated above, Morrow and Murray had subpar games against the Rangers, mostly because they couldn’t keep up.  Iginla didn’t have the greatest game but didn’t do much wrong either.  He is certainly developing chemistry with Malkin and Neal and I fully expect that line to be potent in the upcoming weeks.  Murray is not much of a concern either; he will have games like this from time to time.  Morrow could be a question mark in the long run though.  I’ll give him a few more games before attacking him fully at least.

Missing Offense: The Pens only managed 27 shots against the Rangers and only had 1 goal again.  The shot totals over the past 2 games are rather disturbing since this is a team that has frequently gotten 35-40 shots when their star players are missing.  Even when the team is in the offensive zone, there are quite a few shifts where 30 seconds in the zone fails to produce a shot.  Without Crosby, Letang, and Martin, the team as a whole needs to simplify things in the offensive zone and just get the puck on net.  It will be disappointing if they don’t get at least 35 shots on net on Friday.  Oh, and Evgeni Malkin, it’s time for you to show up and take over now.

Ice Time: Over the past 2 games, ice time has shifted dramatically into an even mix for almost every player.  Martin and Letang usually average over 25 minutes and Crosby averages over 21.  Those minutes are being spread to EVERYONE and we’re quickly seeing that not everyone can handle that as well.  Someone has to eventually step up and earn more minutes (Niskanen? Malkin?) or this team could flounder in mediocrity for a couple of weeks as players try to figure out their new roles.

Defensive Support: The support from the wingers in the defensive zone was absolutely putrid all night against the Rangers.  Every single forward failed at one time or another to help a clear out of the zone on the boards, to cover a trailing forward entering the offensive zone, or to clear the puck on their own.  It was a lazy and lackadaisical effort that hasn’t been seen in over a month from the forwards.  It was also the same problem that plagued the team early in the year when fans wanted heads to roll.  The regular season may not matter too much, but those bad habits can’t creep back in.  Here’s your wake up call, Pens.

Defensive Speed: With the current injuries and the lineup as it stands, the Penguins are really hurting for quick, mobile defensemen.  This is a very sluggish group of 6 which means that while they may lose puck races, they can’t afford to lose puck battles and they have to support each other to get the puck out.  They failed with all of it against the Rangers and they’re going to have to work on that as pairings in regards to communication.  Also, the forwards better be prepared to skate the full length of the ice to help out.

Jokinen Analysis: Shero strikes again!  Jokinen is a solid addition to this team.  He’ll start off between Kunitz and Dupuis which will lessen the blow of losing Crosby for those two.  He also is a strong faceoff guy and can play the PK as well (we should never see Glass taking a PK faceoff again).  He is signed through next year (which could be useful as Adams, Cooke, Dupuis hit UFA status) and can play any forward position.  The only issue is his price tag, $3 million per year.  The Hurricanes will pay part of that (has to be less than 50%, I’ve seen rumors of 15%) which will relieve some cap space for the Penguins, but it is certainly a steep price on the books with the cap coming down.  It’s a great move for this year, but may be costly next year depending on how he performs and who can’t be signed because of him.  But as we all know by now, ALL IN this year.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.