Thoughts: Game 46 – Penguins vs Sabres

Sabres 4 Pens 2

Kunitz (22) from Sutter, Cooke
Iginla (14) (PP) from Letang, Malkin

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Stat Leaders

Shots: Iginla (8) *Eaton and Orpik were the only players to not record shots
Misses: Malkin (4)
Blocks: Letang (6)
Hits: Adams (4)
Ice Time: Letang (28:16) … Glass (9:07) *Orpik (6:44) left with a lower body injury
Faceoffs: Sutter (8/13) … Jokinen (8/16)

The Good

Jarome Iginla powerplay goal

Iginla and the Pens celebrate yet another powerplay goal with Iggy at the point. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jarome Iginla: Iginla has added a completely new dimension to the Penguins powerplay that we have been questioning for years.  He fits perfectly on the left point instead of rotating Malkin/Crosby/another defenseman in that spot.  Iggy scored a powerplay goal from there on just one of his 8 shots, most coming on the powerplay.  His 5 on 5 game took some dips at times as he and Dupuis rotated their wing positions frequently on the ice, but overall Iginla had a strong game.  My favorite part – after he scored, he skated directly to Letang and said “Thanks buddy.”  Awwww.

Matt Niskanen: Despite being a -2 on the stat sheet, Niskanen played a solid game and continues to look good any time Letang is in the lineup.  He broke up a couple of 2 on 1s and had several solid, low shots from the point.  Niskanen clearly slots into a 2nd defenseman pairing perfectly at this stage in his career.

Kris Letang: Though the turnover at the end of the game for an empty net goal was ugly, Letang played very well throughout the night despite taking on additional minutes in Orpik’s absence. He finished with 28:16 of ice time, more than I would like to see a week before the playoffs, but was fairly productive with his minutes.  He led the team with 6 blocked shots, recorded 5 shots, and assisted on Iginla’s PP goal.  The next thing he needs to do is avoid big hits before he gets concussed again.  His skating style and transition play always puts him at a risk for big hits.  My favorite part for him – yelling “this is bullshit” as trainer Chris Stewart told him he had to come to the locker room during the 2nd period.


Evgeni Malkin: Malkin had a better return than I was expecting as he played 21:18, went 11/18 in faceoffs, and recorded an assist.  His stickhandling looked sharp, as did his effort and conditioning.  The one thing that stood out though was his 1 shot on goal and 4 missed shots.  It appeared after the first 2 missed shots, Malkin began to hesitate on his pass/shoot decisions and deferred to pass every time.  His confidence in his shot is still low, and that’s the biggest thing to look for in these last 2 games (along with the health of his shoulder).

The Bad

Dustin Jeffrey chases a puck

Jeffrey would probably be the ideal 2nd line center on a bad team. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Dustin Jeffrey: It has been said many times before, but Jeffrey slots well as a skill center but not so well as a checking center.  After looking great on the 2nd line in Ottawa, Jeffrey had a dismal game on the 4th line vs Buffalo.  His most glaring mistake came on a costly giveaway while there was a line change which led to the game winner for Buffalo.  Jeffrey simply isn’t a dump and chase guy and Vitale would have fit that role on the 4th line much better against Buffalo.  This isn’t a new thing.

Mark Eaton: The day off did nothing good for Eaton as he came back to have a rough outing.  In 20:20 of ice time, Eaton had one blocked shot and was a bit hesitant on his decisions, especially when approaching the puck on the boards.  The first round matchup the Penguins draw could make a huge difference on how valuable Eaton is.  Quick wingers may cause some problems for him as we saw against Buffalo.

Douglas Murray: Murray probably played his worst game as a Penguin, showing off those concrete skates everyone in the West made fun of him for.  He lost track of Tomas Vanek multiple times, leading to a goal and a breakaway that Fleury managed to stop.  He also struggled in general with keeping up with his assignments and adjusting to the Penguins movement in the defensive zone.  After noting previously that his anticipation is what keeps his game at a high level, he demonstrated zero anticipation in this game.  Hopefully it’s just a bad game that we can forget about in a couple of days.  However, much like Eaton, Murray’s usefulness may largely depend on the speed of the opposing team.

Misc. Thoughts

Scratches: As alluded to above, scratching Vitale for Jeffrey was questionable just based on usage and matchups.  Jeffrey certainly earned another game with his production against Ottawa, but he’s just not a productive or useful 4th line player.  With how talented this team is, Bylsma will have to work on slotting in who is best at the position rather than who is the best talent available.  I also thought it was curious that Despres wasn’t dressed for this game as the Pens went with a lineup that was heavy on slow moving defensemen (Orpik, Murray, Eaton, Engelland).  Ideally, I would like Despres to balance it out so there are 3 of each type in the lineup.  Finally, I don’t know whether Kennedy was scratched due to performance or just to get him a game off, but either way it’s about time.  Hopefully he comes back re-focused (if he comes back at all).

Allows/Disallows: On the Sabres disallowed goal, that was a fantastic job by the refs to see Vanek putting his stick into Fleury’s skates to take him down.  I missed that live, I missed it watching the DVR of the game, and I finally caught it on the replay they showed on Root. Sometimes, the refs deserve credit.  As for Ott’s goal, I honestly think it was a good goal.  Freeze framed, it looks like Ott’s stick hits the puck exactly at the crossbar line.  The angle is above the net, which means that contact was probably slightly below the crossbar.  If nothing else, there wasn’t enough of a distinction to overturn it at least.  Another good job by the refs, in my opinion.

Shooting Decisions: The Pens took 42 shots, so it’s hard to say they were bad about shooting, but they made quite a few questionable decisions.  The whole team seemed insistent on passing up good shooting angles to pass the puck down low for quick shots by the goal line, many of which never made it on net.  I marked down Bennett, Kunitz, Murray, Malkin, and Dupuis for making awful shot/pass decisions that led to poor chances, no chances, or giveaways.  42 shots doesn’t matter if the quality is garbage.  As Kunitz demonstrated on his first goal, it’s not like Ryan Miller was in line to have the greatest night.

Random Notes:

  • I’m now a Christian Ehrhoff fan.  After he destroyed Letang at the blue line (no, that’s not why I’m a fan), Ehrhoff stopped paying attention to the play and kept looking at Letang.  He looked genuinely worried about if Letang was okay and then was even looking over from the Sabres bench afterwards.  In a sport where we want everyone to crush everyone else, the genuine concern Ehrhoff showed was commendable and a nice change of pace.
  • Orpik left the game after playing only 6:44 due to a “lower body injury.”  For as much as people have harped on Orpik during this season, that is not a lingering injury I want to see because of the minutes other defensemen will have to take on.  As weird as it is, I’m more comfortable with Orpik looking bad for 24 minutes than other guys adding a few more minutes of questionable play.
  • I’m pretty sure Pascal Dupuis had 9,000 scoring chances in that game and found a different way to fail on every single one of them.
  • If you woo at a Pens game, especially when they are losing or tied, I hope you get hit by a bus.

Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.