Thoughts: Game 42 – Penguins vs Panthers

Pens 3 Panthers 1

Goals
Letang (4) from Bennett, Morrow
Morrow (8) from Bennett, Vitale
Morrow (9) (PP) from Dupuis

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Stat Leaders

  • Shots: Kunitz, Niskanen, Orpik (3)
  • Blocks: Murray (4)
  • Hits: Adams, Vitale (5)
  • Ice Time: Letang (28:19) … Bennett (11:44)
  • Faceoffs: Vitale (13/17) … Sutter (5/10) (Team went 31/52)

The Good

Beau Bennett puck

Bennett's "lack of size" hasn't stopped him from producing. (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

Brenden Morrow: After having major concerns about Morrow in his first week with Pittsburgh, it’s great to see him coming around, especially on the scoreboard.  Morrow had 3 points and 3 hits in 14:45 of ice time to figure in on every goal.  He did have 2 penalties to take away from his productivity slightly, but it was still a great effort from the veteran.  One thing to note: Morrow really benefits from having defensemen that can get the puck into the offensive zone fast.  Less D time for Morrow = much more effective player.

Beau Bennett: Bennett is unquestionably ready for regular NHL action so it’s a shame he will get squeezed by the absurd talent on this roster.  He had 2 assists in 11:44 of ice time and played another strong game in the defensive zone.  Though both of his assists were strong, his best play of the night may have been streaking down to Fleury’s crease and preventing a wrap-around chance when both defensemen were out of position.  His awareness and versatility is very impressive.

Joe Vitale: Vitale certainly made the most of his chance in the lineup, going 13/17 in the faceoff circle, recording 5 hits, and notching an assist as well.  He actually played more than Glass or Bennett and even saw some PK time finally, playing 1:32 short-handed.  With those faceoff numbers and a perfect PK effort, Bylsma might want to reconsider who gets scratched when Malkin returns to the lineup.

Noteworthy

Matt Niskanen: Though he was partially at fault for the only goal against, Niskanen’s game is starting to trend back up to where it was at the start of the season.  He had 3 shots, 2 hits, and a takeaway in 15:30 of ice time.  The massive reduction in ice time with Letang’s return seems to have a positive effect on his overall game.  He also seems to be adjusting quickly to Murray’s lack of range, which might be the most important thing going into the playoffs.

Kris Letang: Letang played a slightly insane 28:19 against the Panthers (Orpik, with 24:34, was the only other player over 20 minutes) and had his usual ups and downs.  Giveaways in the defensive zone were a problem, but he also had a few nice pass breakups and added a goal as well.  He has been very impressive with Orpik through 2 games and I even noted that he opted to dump a puck in and skate back into defensive position at one point rather than continue with his usual freestyle skating.  If Letang continues to play (mostly) responsible hockey like that, good things will happen for everyone.  I have to question his ice time coming off of nagging leg injuries though.

The Bad

Matt Cooke defense

The third line is spending too much time in the wrong zone lately. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Third Line: The third line was downright lost on the only goal against and the unit of Kennedy-Sutter-Cooke really hasn’t been impressive in quite a while.  Sutter is continuing through a cold streak and the line seemed to get stuck in the defensive zone more frequently than usual.  This line really isn’t doing anything that suggests it should be kept together and for some reason, they don’t seem to communicate well either.  It’s time to let go, Sutter is not Staal, it’s not a plug and play line.

Misc. Thoughts

Malkin Injury: Sunburn, shoulder injury, upper body injury…Malkin is out with something.  While I do not know what he is actually out with, these are my thoughts: a) No way any player or team would admit it if the injury was actually sunburn, b) it could very well be his shoulder, but then you have to question his activity at the gameday skate, c) a part of me hopes it is sunburn because we don’t need more nagging injuries on this team.

Versatility: Not only has Ray Shero put together a very deep and talented team, but he also has a team with amazing versatility throughout the lineup.  Pascal Dupuis was example #1 against Florida, taking over at center with Malkin out.  It’s hardly just Dupuis though.  Jokinen can play all 3 forward positions and handle both PP and PK.  Iginla is the same way.  Bennett has shown he can play on any line, in any situation already.  This is a very impressive roster of talented players that can seriously do it all.  It’s the biggest reason this team can survive without Neal, Crosby, and Malkin right now.

Stretch Passes: Letang and Despres in the lineup made a huge difference against Florida in domino-like fashion.  Their ability to move the puck well led to more stretch passes.  More stretch passes led to the puck in Florida’s end more often.  The puck in Florida’s end led to forwards forechecking at full speed and beating the hell out of the Panthers (another reason Vitale had a great game).  This often led to turnovers and opportunities.  Bylsma’s system works beautifully when the Pens can move the puck up quickly.  Both Letang and Despres did a fantastic job with it against Florida.

Despres Returns: As you can tell from the last segment, I was ecstatic Despres was back in the lineup.  With Martin out, having another puck mover is big for this team and Despres stepped up nicely in that regard.  While I don’t expect (or even want) him to play every game down the stretch, it will be important to keep him at game speed going into the playoffs just in case of injuries.  Also, he’s a valuable guy to have just to give other guys a breather down the stretch (Eaton, Orpik, etc.).  It’s time to get ready for the playoffs and Despres provides many different options to do that.

Random Notes

  • Orpik looked like he had a fresh speed burst out of nowhere against the Panthers.  A day off and some Florida sun certainly did him well.
  • Jokinen still looks very lost on the PK, but at least survived this time.
  • Bennett excels at taking up space in the defensive zone. He changes to a wide stance, gets his stick out, and gets his arms out too.  It’s actually rather impressive how he can take away space like that.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.