Pens 2 Rangers 1 (SO)
Jokinen (7) from Kunitz, Dupuis
SO Winner: Jokinen
- Shots: Dupuis (6)
- Blocks: Niskanen (6)
- Hits: Orpik (7)
- Takeaways: Sutter (2)
- Giveaways: Malkin (2)
- Ice Time: Orpik (27:02)
- Least Ice Time: Glass (7:59)
- Faceoffs: Jokinen (13/15)
Marc-Andre Fleury: When he wasn’t busy scaring the life out of everyone trying to make saves with his bare hand, Flower was poised, confident, and almost perfect in a very nice bounce-back game. He stopped 34 of 35 shots, only allowing a goal to Rick Nash almost immediately off of a defensive zone faceoff and through a screen. He continued his strong work into the shootout, stopping all 3 New York attempts to complete the win for the Pens. Fun fact: when Fleury has a chance to win a shootout at home with the final save, he’s 13 for 13. Now someone just needs to tell him to never even consider trying to make a save with his bare hand again.
Jussi Jokinen: What a debut for Jussi Jokinen. Thrown out of Carolina because he wasn’t earning his $3 million contract, Jokinen scored the only Penguins goal and their only shootout goal to provide all of the offense necessary in this victory. He quickly found chemistry with Kunitz and Dupuis on the top line and gave them a huge boost in puck possession by going 13 for 15 in the faceoff circle. Jokinen may have been worth his trade value (conditional 6/7 pick) just for this game alone. Now, hopefully he can keep it up to earn that salary (which Carolina will partially pay next year).
Matt Cooke: Cooke played the ultimate pest against New York, racking up 5 hits and no discernible offensive stats as he seemed to get on everyone’s nerves. Cooke drew the ire of almost every Ranger at some point during the game, even drawing a slash from Rick Nash on the Rangers bench (who then hid behind Ryan Callahan instead of dealing with Cooke). Cooke got the Rangers back with a cheap slash on Henrik Lundqvist (more on that later) and Nash apparently found inspiration from Cooke to score the game-tying goal late in the 3rd period. While Matt Cooke the Pest can be a great asset, boy did the Rangers look fired up in the 3rd period as they took control of the play completely. There’s a fine line to watch out for there.
Brooks Orpik: The first period kept Orpik out of the bad section because he really had a fantastic start to the game. In the first period, he demonstrated solid crease play, threw a couple of hits that separated forwards from the puck, and broke up a pass play down low. I was ready to mark him for a big rebound game after the first period. His game then slowly got worse, shift by shift, until it was mind-boggling late in the 3rd period. He started getting stuck in the defensive zone, unable to get to the perimeter in time, and he had trouble clearing the puck from the zone. He even made an awful decision to step up (and out of position) to block a pass that he missed, leading to a 2 on 1 / partial breakaway chance. With 3 blocked shots and 7 hits, Orpik certainly did some things right, but it’s hard to watch a game like this and think he is capable of playing 27:02 anymore. Letang’s return as a minutes-eater will help him out greatly.
Officiating: Both teams were completely railed by officials throughout this game, but it’s probably something to get used to for the playoffs in just a few weeks. There were plenty of missed calls in a very scrappy game, which oddly enough, led to an even scrappier game. Michael Del Zotto got away with an elbow to Neal’s face and then got away with somehow body slamming Malkin by his face. Cooke got away with slashing Lundqvist away from the play. Douglas Murray managed to avoid a couple of interference penalties in the Penguins’ crease. Then Dupuis gets called for an absurd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty where he is given no indication that icing is about to be called. Some of it is let the players play, but that bench incident and many of the cheap shots likely don’t occur if the refs are calling a tight, clean game. In a game with two opponents that just played each other in what was essentially a blowout, the refs need to be a bit more aware of what’s going on.
Evgeni Malkin: I never foresaw this coming into the season, especially after watching 30+ of his KHL games, but Evgeni Malkin looks the least confident that I’ve seen him in years. His stat line was straight 0’s aside from 1 hit and 2 giveaways. On the plus side, he did go 12 for 20 in faceoffs. He is making the decision to pass instead of shoot at almost every chance, which is likely a byproduct of his unusually low 7.5% shooting percentage this season (he is a career 12.5%). Some hypothesize that his shoulder is still an issue, but I do not think that is the case because he is not shying away from contact and he continues to skate into opponents 1 on 3 and 1 on 4 trying to make dazzling moves around them. However, he looks like a man that is second guessing his natural instincts and wants so badly to be the go-to guy that he’s making mistakes trying to force it. One of the most nonsensical plays to illustrate this was when the puck sat about 6 inches away from Fleury’s glove, and instead of Malkin just tapping it back to Fleury, he pulled the puck away from Fleury and attempted to loft the puck out of the zone by himself. The puck didn’t clear the blue line and it led to some great chances for the Rangers. If Malkin makes that play work, it looks brilliant, but it looked awful when it didn’t work. Get the kid a goal or two and he’ll be fine, but he needs a serious confidence boost asap.
New Guys: As mentioned above, Jussi Jokinen had a wonderful debut with the Penguins and played well all over the ice. The only negative I saw to his game was he looked very lost in the Penguins coverage schemes and lanes, sometimes taking over another player’s space when it was already covered. Practice time will fix that though. Jarome Iginla had a decent, though quiet game. He was certainly not helped out by Malkin’s issues. Brenden Morrow played a much better game than on Wednesday. He recorded 5 hits, looked very strong with the puck, and put in the extra effort on defense to not get beat nearly as much as last game. Douglas Murray also looked much better, keeping his game very simple and even focusing less on hits to remain in good position.
Lineup: There’s no question Jokinen fits in on the first line and provides a huge faceoff guy that the Penguins needed. With that, he basically eliminates the need for Joe Vitale, so that scratch is understandable. The fourth line of Glass-Adams-Kennedy looked very good in limited time and they even created some energy and scoring chances, especially late in the 1st period. Until Crosby is healthy, the forwards look ideal to me as they are currently set up (when was the last time I said that?), though that will probably go awry if Neal misses time. On defense, I don’t understand sitting Despres (who played reasonably well on Wednesday). I fully expected Bortuzzo to sit instead. Personally, I would have Despres ahead of Engelland and Bortuzzo on the depth chart right now.
Ice Time: With 3 days off coming up, Bylsma had no hesitancies in using all of his players exactly how he wanted to in this game. The 4th line was limited to 8-10 minutes. The top defensemen played over 25 minutes. Malkin even played almost 24 minutes. While that hurt the defensemen (simply because they are not really top defensemen), the forwards were almost all put into situations where they could succeed. Their execution was less than perfect, but as a whole, the lines did play exactly as much as you would expect in a playoff-type game. Consider the Rangers game a dress rehearsal of sorts.
Atmosphere: Speaking of a playoff game, this matchup really had that playoff-like atmosphere with the crowd getting into it and both teams clearly despising each other. It was a nice test for the Penguins after the Philly debacle last year and even though things got chippy, nothing ever got out of control. It’s April, the Pens are close to clinching a playoff spot, and that was probably your first taste of the playoff hockey that’s coming at the end of the month.
Questionable Hits: Where to even begin…the Michael Del Zotto elbow on Neal was fine worthy in my opinion. I doubt he actually tried to square up Neal in the face with his elbow, but the high elbow was definitely intended to give him some room to work with and he knew Neal was coming. Neal being injured probably plays into any punishment as well, so I will be rather surprised if MDZ doesn’t get fined. On the other side, though it isn’t worthy of any punishment, Cooke’s slash on Lundqvist was a pure cheap shot that demonstrates Cooke isn’t the angel we want him to be. Yeah, cheap shots occur through the course of the game, but here are my issues with it: 1) it’s done behind the play to an unaware player, 2) it’s completely unnecessary, 3) it’s done to a goalie, who can’t exactly skate after Cooke, ask him to drop the gloves, or get an even-up hit. Cheap shots on goalies are low, no matter how much padding they wear, because they do not get the same opportunity to challenge a player on it like a regular skater does. If some player does that to Fleury, Pittsburgh would be burning that player alive. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the equivalent of Nash slashing Cooke from the bench, they’re both BS plays. And with that, you basically have my thoughts on Nash as well; it won’t be punished but what a cheap, pathetic move.
Video from @BladedWedge if you haven’t seen Cooke’s slash on Lundqvist
Etc: Carolina fans/writers are starting to question their moves with Pittsburgh a little bit (nice find by @HF_Steve: Jokinen Trade Signifies End of Canes’ Season).
Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.