Pens 8 Canes 3
Malkin (9) (PP) from Neal, Fleury
Neal (19) from Letang, Kunitz
Jokinen (12) from Dupuis, Iginla
Neal (20) (PP) from Malkin, Martin
Neal (21) from Malkin, Kunitz
Morrow (12) from Sutter, Cooke
Cooke (8) from Morrow, Martin
Jokinen (13) from Iginla, Letang
Shots: Neal (8)
Blocks: Niskanen (5)
Hits: Glass (4)
Giveaways: Despres (2)
Ice Time: Letang (23:34) … Kennedy (11:04)
Faceoffs: Jokinen (12/16) … Sutter (6/16)
James Neal: Add a tinted visor to the man and suddenly he’s scoring like Alexander Ovechkin (sorry, comparison had to be made). Neal had a wonderful return after missing a few weeks with a concussion, netting a hat trick and adding an assist. It can even be argued that Neal played his best game of the season against Carolina after going through a cold streak just 3 weeks into the season. He didn’t shy away from contact, he looked very comfortable working with Malkin, and he displayed his usual lightning quick release on his shots. That was the perfect confidence boost for Neal heading into the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin: Even if Malkin isn’t shooting at his normal rate (3 shots against Carolina), it really won’t matter when he has a healthy James Neal on his wing. Geno had the primary assist on 2 of Neal’s goals and also scored a powerplay goal of his own to impress his parents who were at the game. He also went 13/19 in the faceoff circle. It was a very impressive performance for Malkin, though he only played 16:19 as Bylsma made sure to get everyone a significant amount of playing time. I will gladly take 16-17 minutes of Malkin at 110% like against Carolina though.
Jussi Jokinen: Is anyone doing the calculations for how much Carolina just paid Jokinen to score 2 goals against them? The most versatile man on the roster continues to exceed expectations, recording 2 goals and going 12/16 in the faceoff circle in just 12:55 of ice time. He played on the PP and the PK and looks comfortable playing with literally every player on this team already. Jokinen will undoubtedly be a huge factor in the Penguins’ success in the postseason.
Brandon Sutter: Sutter played decent through most of the game, but did have a bad giveaway and was dismal with faceoffs. He went 6/16 with his most glaring loss coming in the defensive zone as Eric Staal beat him cleanly and Kevin Westgarth scored seconds later from his faceoff position. Sutter has had quite a few of these clean faceoff losses that have led to goals this season and it may be time to consider Jokinen as the more dependable defensive faceoff guy. When Crosby returns, dare I say that Sutter belongs 4th in line for faceoffs behind Crosby, Malkin, and Jokinen?
Paul Martin: Martin looked strong with the puck in his return and was able to stickhandle well, which is good to see coming off of hand surgery. His defensive timing was a little off though, best demonstrated by his missed poke check on the 2nd goal against. It was great that he was able to get a game in before the playoffs started to work out those types of kinks in his game. He ended up playing 23:31, just 3 seconds short of team leader Kris Letang, and recorded 2 assist and 2 blocked shots. It’s rather amazing that he came back as quickly as he did in comparison to his timetable.
Simon Despres: Did Despres play himself out of the lineup going into the playoffs? He had one unlucky giveaway in front of the net that led to Ruutu’s goal and had another giveaway that was completely on him. He finished with 17:36 of ice time and no discernible stats aside from the giveaways. For as well as Engelland has played lately, and Bylsma’s penchant for playing veterans, Despres probably did himself no favors for staying in the lineup. It’s going to be a very tough call as Bylsma decides who his 6th defenseman will be until Orpik returns.
Doulgas Murray: I have to say I’m a little concerned about Murray going into the playoffs. In the last 3 games, he has looked a step slow frequently. It was on display again against Carolina as he couldn’t get out to Westgarth on the 3rd goal and couldn’t get into the proper shooting lane either for a block. His blocks and hitting numbers have been dropping as well. As he played 19:29 against Carolina, it might be a worthwhile consideration to drop his minutes to keep him fresh throughout a game. He’s going to wear on teams in the playoffs, but there’s a strong chance teams will wear on him as well.
Injury Report: Neal and Martin both had rather favorable returns in the season finale. Crosby is still out but has received medical clearance to skate and practice with the team. I personally question if Game 1 is too early and I’d rather he sits out until he’s 100%, but we’ll see what he decides. Brooks Orpik and Joe Vitale are day to day with lower body injuries. Vitale’s injury likely won’t matter as there isn’t room in the lineup for him right now. Orpik is one to keep an eye on, especially to drop the minutes of other defensemen. The team certainly won’t want to rush a lower body injury, but Orpik will be very valuable in the playoffs.
Playoff Preview: As I finish this up, it looks like the Penguins will get the Islanders in the first round. I won’t go too much into it in case that changes. Quick notes: The Islanders have a lot of speed and offensive firepower, but they don’t have the defense to contain the Pens. However, the Pens defense is susceptible to the Islanders’ forecheck and time of possession would be a big key in the series. Nabokov has a history of playoff failures, but he has come a long way as a person since those days. The Pens have the depth to crush NYI, but they will have to execute well, especially on clears. I’m looking at you, wingers. Also, get TK out of the lineup. It’s time. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for the playoffs!
Get the full ELEVEN Goal Assessment at CrosbyFTW. For the playoffs, they will all be in these posts instead of linked elsewhere.