Thoughts: Game 39 – Pens Put Together Encouraging Effort Despite 3-2 (OT) Loss

Blackhawks 3  Pens 2 (OT)

Record: 19-15-5, 43 pts

Crosby (12) from Perron, Letang
Letang (4) from Crosby

Letang (hooking) – Good (gets his stick into Hossa’s gloves to stop a chance with Hossa wide open in front with the puck after Cole stepped up and missed the puck)
Letang (interference) – Unnecessary (shoves Toews to the ice as they chase a loose puck in the Blackhawks zone before the players get to the puck)

Gm 39 - Events

Notable Forwards

Gm 39 - Forwards

Sidney Crosby ↑ – Crosby might just keep this spot forever at this rate as he continues to lead the offense back from oblivion (or back from Malkin’s lead at least?). Crosby scored the first Penguins goal on a snipe from the right circle that left Crawford with nothing to say but, “Guys are going to make nice shots sometimes” after the game. He then assisted on Letang’s goal late in the 3rd period with a faceoff win directly to Letang, who had positioned himself on the left side for the shooting opportunity. Yet again, Crosby’s line was the best on the ice for the Penguins and they spent a significant amount of time in the offensive zone, looking dangerous on just about every shift. Crosby’s point total could have been a bit higher if his linemates could finish a chance or two…

David Perron↔/Chris Kunitz – Crosby’s linemates are playing well defensively, supporting the line well offensively, but can’t finish a play if their life depended on it. Perron looked very aware of the ice in the offensive zone with a pass interception, a takeaway, a broken-up play, and a penalty drawn. He generally moved around the zone well to get into good shooting opportunities, but he wasn’t able to do much with them. The prime frustrating example of this was when Perron recorded a takeaway just inside the blue line in the Blackhawks zone, took the puck in for essentially a breakaway, and managed to shoot the puck wide of the net on his forehand. He did redeem himself a little with an assist and nice drive to the net on Crosby’s goal, but he needs to finish his chances better. Moving on to Kunitz, I’m willing to vouch for him defensively, but his puck decisions were terrible against Chicago. On the plus side, he did a good job of covering for defensemen when needed and made a great play to collapse on Anisimov when Lovejoy inexplicably backed away from the shooter (it was such a nice play that Lovejoy’s error wasn’t even mentioned or noticed on the broadcast). Though he was tied up with Hossa on the Toews goal, he would have been required to cover the passing lane to Hossa, so I didn’t really view that as an error on him. On to the mistakes…Kunitz was forcing the puck pretty much all night. He had 3 blatant giveaways right to the tape of Chicago skaters and he forced the puck to Crosby a couple of times in situations that led to Crosby losing the puck. I love Kunitz for what he can do defensively and how well he and Crosby tend to read each other, but his lack of puck-handling nowadays is frustrating and poor puck management makes it much worse. The hands may have diminished, but at least make the right decisions, Kunitz. Overall for both of these guys, they need to finish more chances with Crosby setting them up frequently and drawing 2-3 defenders to create space at the same time.

Matt Cullen ↘ – I’ve admittedly been down on the idea of Cullen on the 2nd line but he was playing fine so I had written about the line instead of Cullen. This game provided me with more ammo for removing Cullen from the 2nd line since he didn’t have a strong game himself. Maybe it was the elevated ice time (18:15), but Cullen didn’t appear to have his usual burst of speed at times and it showed with an uncharacteristic lost coverage in the defensive zone. He also had a couple of turnovers in the offensive zone and wasn’t exactly a hawk on the puck like he frequently is. While I think Cullen works well on the 2nd line from time to time, especially when Malkin needs help with faceoffs, I think it’s generally not working well enough for the line. Cullen was also partially at fault for the first goal against when he passed the puck off to Dumoulin in the offensive zone but then didn’t cover for him when Dumoulin skated deeper into the zone. Cullen’s best work has been on the PK and at least eye-test wise, with Fehr and Plotnikov on the 4th line. His current workload on the 2nd line just doesn’t appear to be a match to me (also contrast his 18:15 TOI with Fehr’s 8:57…I would like to see that balanced out a little better given what skills both have to offer).

Notable Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 39 - Defense

Kris Letang ↑ – Letang continued his recent hot streak with a two-point night. He assisted on Crosby’s goal by beautifully skating the puck out of the defensive zone and then he later scored a goal of his own off of a faceoff when it appeared that Crawford didn’t see the shot coming. Letang wasn’t all offense despite leading the team with 7 shots though. His defensive game was excellent with a couple of pass interceptions and broken-up plays to go with a takeaway and forced turnover. He even committed a good penalty to negate a scoring chance as he hooked up Hossa’s hands in front of the net after Cole stepped up out of position and didn’t get control of the puck as Hossa did. I had to be a jerk and mark Letang down for being at fault for the overtime goal against since Panarin was his man, but it’s a rather easy one to let slide given his overall performance and how downright exhausted all 3 Penguins on the ice were at that point. There’s a reason why the Penguins have only one win this season with Letang out of the lineup and he’s showing off those skills every game lately.

Marc-Andre Fleury ↔ – Fleury was solid enough in a 27-save effort, but it was a weird game for him. He generally wasn’t tested too much through regulation. The only regulation goals he allowed were on a 2-on-1 one-timer (and he still managed to get a piece of the shot, which was impressive on its own) and a fluke bounce on a shot going wide that went off of Toews and ended up in the net. Things were absolutely crazy in overtime and Fleury made a few spectacular saves on Hossa and Kane before eventually giving up the game-winner to Panarin on a perfect wrist shot. The main reason Fleury didn’t get a diagonal up arrow here is because his puck-handling was baffling. He was very slow to make decisions with the puck behind the net and one situation led to a Fleury giveaway in front of the net that was luckily saved by both Letang and Daley collapsing to the crease. He also made a couple of bad passes around the boards that turned into giveaways/failed clears and even unnecessarily stepped out for a poke check that became a turnover even though his defenseman was going to get to the puck first. Fleury’s puck skills have never been anything special, but he has toned it down through most of this season so it hasn’t been as noticeable. Hopefully this game was just a little bump in the road for those decisions.

Brian Dumoulin ↔ – Dumoulin mainly caught my eye in this game for his willingness to skate into the offensive zone, and deep into the offensive zone, even though it did come back to bite him once. He was very aggressive in trying to help the offense and landed 3 shots on net in the process. Things went awry on the first goal against when Cullen didn’t cover for him and he chased his own rebound instead of retreating back to play defense, which left a 2-on-1 going the other way. Aside from that communication issue though, he did a good job of pinching and he gave the forwards a passing option when they needed it. I’m still (and forever will be at this rate) curious about how he might do with Daley instead of Lovejoy given the “shutdown” pairing’s erosion from earlier in the year.

Random Thoughts

Chess Match – This game started oddly slow for two high-powered teams with only 14 total shots in the first period. The opening period really played out like a chess match as the teams tried to figure each other out. Crosby’s line was matched up against Kane’s early and they were holding back a bit, often clogging up the neutral zone so the Kane line couldn’t use any speed to get up ice (and it was successful in forcing Kane to go offside once and lose the puck twice within the first few shifts). Meanwhile, other lines were much more aggressive with their matchups. The Bonino line continued to send two forecheckers in, which went awry with a couple of messy odd-man breaks going the other way that were defended well by their backchecking efforts. The game opened up quite a bit more in the 2nd period and much more once goals were actually scored. I wouldn’t expect the same slow start in Chicago on Wednesday. I’m guessing these teams will go right after each other from the opening faceoff after the cautious start and frantic end in this game. It’ll be interesting to see how Quenneville wants to use his lines as opposed to how Sullivan matched them up.

No Quit – Though they were down 2-0 at one point, the Penguins didn’t play all that poorly in getting to that deficit (much like the 2-0 deficit to start against Detroit). Once upon a time, how they played didn’t matter and they would still fold on their way to an inevitable loss. Those days are gone. The team stuck to their strengths and continued to pour it on until they found a way to tie it up, led by Crosby’s line and Letang’s pairing. Though Malkin’s line didn’t earn any points, he clearly made a concerted effort in the 3rd period with a couple of beautiful takeaways as well. Colby Armstrong was on the Marek vs Wyshynski podcast Tuesday afternoon and discussed how the Penguins seemed to be playing scared before the coaching change. What we’re seeing now is a team that is excited, a team that looks hungry, and a team that is starting to believe in their abilities and their process again. Even after the game, despite an overtime loss, there seemed to be pride in the comeback based on all of the player quotes. Hockey is fun again, both for us and for them.

Encouraging Loss – I’m going to be a bit of a hypocrite here. I was livid with only getting 1 point against the Maple Leafs last week, but I’m happy with getting 1 point against the Blackhawks in this game. Of course, the difference is that the Blackhawks are currently tied for 3rd in the NHL and earning points against them is seen as much more unlikely than against the Maple Leafs (oh, expectations). It was a big point for the Penguins to come back and get, and hopefully it was a moral victory that they’ll use to steal 2 more points as they travel to Chicago. Things continue to look up…but there is still a difficult road ahead and the Penguins definitely need to earn some unexpected points in the process.

Goals Recap

1st Blackhawks Goal (Panarin)

Chicago Contributions
D. Keith – gets a rebound below the goal line in the Blackhawks zone, takes the puck behind the net, and moves it up to Kane skate up the right-side boards out of the Blackhawks zone
P. Kane – exits the right side of the Blackhawks zone with an immediate 2-on-1 with Panarin against Lovejoy, carries the puck all the way to the inside half of the right circle in the Penguins zone, then makes a saucer pass over Lovejoy’s stick to Panarin at the inside corner of the left circle
A. Panarin – one-times a shot on net that goes off of Fleury’s blocker as he’s sprawling across the crease and into the net
Pittsburgh Faults
M. Cullen – passes the puck to Dumoulin in the offensive zone so Dumoulin can pinch into the zone, but doesn’t cover back for him and runs into him as Keith gets the puck
B. Dumoulin – pinches into the offensive zone and then chases his own rebound instead of retreating back on defense and also runs into Cullen as Keith gets the puck

2nd Blackhawks Goal (Toews)

Chicago Contributions
J. Toews – wins a faceoff in the left circle in the Penguins zone back to Scuderi at the left point (cont.), has Seabrook’s shot go off of his body so it lands in the crease and rolls into the net
R. Scuderi – passes the puck down to Shaw halfway down the left-side boards
A. Shaw – throws the puck across the ice for Seabrook on the right side
B. Seabrook – skates down and takes a slap shot at the top of the right circle
Pittsburgh Faults
None – shot was going wide of the net and it was an unfortunate bounce

1st Penguins Goal (Crosby)

Pittsburgh Contributions
B. Dumoulin – gets the puck in the defensive zone after a dump-in and plays it across the ice to Letang near the corner
K. Letang – avoids the forecheck of Kane and skates to the puck to center ice, then passes it to Perron entering the right side of the Blackhawks zone
D. Perron – skates a couple of strides forward and drops the puck off for Crosby trailing him, then continues towards the net to back off the defense
S. Crosby – carries the puck into the top of the right circle and fires a wrist shot that beats Crawford’s blocker to the far side
Chicago Faults
None – Gustafsson isn’t able to step up on Crosby with Perron in his way, and Crosby takes a perfect shot to beat Crawford

2nd Penguins Goal (Letang)

Pittsburgh Contributions
S. Crosby – wins a faceoff in the left circle of the Blackhawks zone back to Letang along the left-side boards
K. Letang – gets control of the puck after it comes off of the boards and takes a quick snap shot
Chicago Faults
C. Crawford – is too slow to pick the shot up from Letang and doesn’t react until it’s going past him despite not having a screen in front

3rd Blackhawks Goal (Panarin)

Chicago Contributions
B. Seabrook – gets the puck in the middle of the Penguins zone after it was poked loose, then passes it down to Kane along the right-side boards (cont.), looks for a shot as he skates forward, then drops the puck to Kane moving to the top of the zone
P. Kane – moves the puck up to Panarin at the right point (cont.), moves around the top of the zone until Letang bites, then drops the puck to Panarin going the other way behind him
A. Panarin – carries the puck into the middle of the zone and then passes it back to Seabrook at the top of the zone (cont.), takes the puck around Letang, down the right side to the inside corner of the right circle, and wrists the puck over Fleury’s glove as they’re 1-on-1
Pittsburgh Faults
K. Letang – bites on Kane at the top of the zone and loses his coverage of Panarin on the switch, likely due to sheer exhaustion at that point in the shift


Next Game: Wed, 1/6 @ Chi, 8pm

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