Devils 3 Pens 2
Cooke (7) from Sutter, Morrow
Jokinen (11) (PP) from Letang, Fleury
Shots: Sutter (4)
Blocks: Eaton (2)
Hits: Adams, Cooke, & Malkin (2)
Takeaways: Malkin (2)
Ice Time: Letang (26:07) … Glass (10:58)
Faceoffs: Sutter (6/11) … Jokinen (5/11) *everyone hovering around 50%
Evgeni Malkin: Though he couldn’t find his way into the points column, Malkin had a very strong all-around game against New Jersey. He looked especially good in the defensive zone, coming up with 2 takeaways and demonstrating solid positioning. He also drew a penalty in the neutral zone and made some very nice passes to set up Iginla and Bennett for chances. He only had one shot and that continues to make me question his confidence/shoulder strength, but the rest of his game looked superb.
Matt Cooke: Cooke looked very strong on a line with Sutter and Morrow and seemed to benefit greatly from having another hard-nosed player on his line like Morrow. He scored Pittsburgh’s first goal, set up Sutter with some nice chances, and also forced Johan Hedberg into a penalty with his hard forecheck. If Cooke and Morrow remain on the same line, those two could form a very formidable, hard-hitting duo for opposing teams to deal with.
Engelland/Despres: The “inexperienced” third defensive pairing played exceptionally well against the Devils as both players made a case for getting ice time in the playoffs. I had each guy marked for 2 above average poke checks and they both did a solid job of keeping forwards to the outside at all times. Despres quietly played 18:56 in a very strong showing and Engelland added a strong 14:29 of ice time. While the team effort wasn’t great, this pairing really played above expectations.
Brandon Sutter: Sutter looked very good in the first two periods as he recorded an assist and made several strong defensive plays. His third period was very lackluster though. On both the second and the third goals against, it appeared Sutter didn’t exactly take the best route to his assignments. The second goal was acceptable since it was on the penalty kill. The third goal was a swing and a miss for Sutter though as he chased down the wrong man and left Despres/Fleury out to dry before eventually poking the puck past Fleury. It seems that Sutter has had more defensive lapses in the past 2-3 weeks than he had all season.
Tyler Kennedy: A game after being a healthy scratch, Kennedy may have yet again played himself out of the lineup, perhaps for good. TK recorded 0 shots on net, largely because he missed a wide open net worse than Jeff Reed ever missed a kick for the Steelers. I also had him marked down for 4 failed clears, 3 of which came on ONE SEQUENCE that led to the Devils’ first goal. Kennedy was playing better than his critics would admit a month ago. Lately though, he has fallen to exactly what those critics expect to see. TK’s time in Pittsburgh may be at an end.
Craig Adams: Adams had a rare down game, looking a little slow to challenge the points on defense and lacking a big forechecking game on offense. The fourth line as a whole was rather quiet and the Penguins never got into a big hitting groove or received any energy from the 4th line of Glass-Adams-Kennedy. Add in a giveway and a missed coverage on the powerplay goal against, and Adams found his way into this section.
Injury Report: Martin and Neal skated with the team at Thursday’s gameday practice and are both targeting Saturday’s season finale as a return date. Sidney Crosby received medical clearance after having more dental work done and will practice with the team on Friday. He will not return until the playoffs though. Brooks Orpik and Joe Vitale are day to day with lower body injuries. In a correction of my last thoughts post, I did not realize Vitale was injured so take away those questions of Jeffrey in over him.
Two Goal Lead: The one worry to take away from this game is how the Penguins blew a two goal lead. No matter how much any game matters, a team of the Penguins’ caliber should be able to hold onto a 2 goal lead. However, they were thoroughly outplayed and showed very little enthusiasm, intensity, or pride in trying to maintain or recapture their lead. They didn’t look awful, but the turnovers and failed clears that led to the loss were too careless, even for a team that didn’t necessarily care.
Importance of Losses: Many will argue they do not want to see the Pens enter the playoffs on a 3 game losing streak, especially to 3 non-playoff teams. Putting wins and losses aside, the only thing I will be looking for on Saturday is how the game is played and if the team is sticking to fundamentals. I want to see wingers supporting their defensemen, defensemen keeping forwards to the outside, smarter passes, and no giveaways. The results don’t matter until next week. The methods, however, matter right now.
- The Penguins never really got to their game tonight. The Devils had much more time in the Pens zone and the Pens had unusually low shot and hit totals. It really did look like a team that didn’t care all that much.
- Douglas Murray looked a step slow again vs New Jersey and that is a troubling trend to see. As much as I like his hitting and blocking abilities, a team like the Islanders could exploit the hell out of him.
- Kris Letang played a very responsible game in his own end and he will need to continue to do that in the playoffs. This version of Letang is my favorite version of Letang.
- This may have been the first game all season where I didn’t notice Chris Kunitz do anything at all, good or bad. I had zero notes for him.
Get the full Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW.