Thoughts: Game 41 – Fleury Continues to Dazzle in Pens 3-1 Win Over Montreal

Pens 3  Canadiens 1

Record: 20-16-5, 45 pts

Hornqvist (9) (PP) from Kessel, Malkin
Rust (1) from Bonino, Dumoulin
Fehr (5) (SH) (EN) unassisted

Dumoulin (tripping) – Careless (tries to shove Byron in the back and loses his balance, getting his stick into Byron’s skates as he puts his hands and stick down)
Crosby (tripping) – Careless (tries to push Gallagher and disrupt him, but puts his stick into Gallagher’s skates and takes him down in the process)
Lovejoy (interference) – Unnecessary (hits Flynn before they get to the puck as they chase a loose puck in the corner of the Penguins zone)
Letang (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (cross-checks Gallagher in the back in front of the net and knocks him down near the end of the 3rd period)

Gm 41 - Events

Notable Forwards

Gm 41 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist ↑ – Hornqvist scored a powerplay goal and drew an interference penalty at the front of the net as he continues to thrive under Sullivan’s watch. He was great in the neutral zone with 3 takeaways and he appeared to be less insistent on dumping the puck in, which helped the Malkin line as a whole. His work in front of the net is where he continues to make his mark though. His hands and patience looked impressive as he stopped Kessel’s pass while moving across the front of the crease and then backhanded the puck past Condon. Hornqvist fills a niche that the rest of the team seems to struggle with in front of the net, which makes his recent success that much more important to the team.

Eric Fehr ↗ – Though the Porter-Cullen-Fehr line struggled to produce much offense and was pinned in the defensive zone quite a bit, Fehr had a strong individual performance defensively and on the penalty kill. He broke up two centering passes, forced two turnovers, and intercepted two passes, one of which came on the penalty kill very late in the 3rd period and turned into an easy empty netter for his goal to put the game away. Fehr and Cullen seem to work very well together (especially on the PK), but that success hasn’t consistently translated with a 3rd guy on the line at even strength. Luckily, he seems to be comfortable on any line in any situation at least.

Bryan Rust ↗ – Rust brought a burst of energy to Bonino’s line and scored the eventual game-winner on a wrister past Condon’s glove on a short breakaway. His quickness and speed were a perfect match for the Canadiens as he closed gaps quickly and did a great job of pressuring on the forecheck. As with most of the WBS forward call-ups, he had some issues with getting knocked off of the puck and it led to some turnovers, but his recovery speed negated any big issues. He certainly earned a continued look in the bottom-6 with this performance.

Notable Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 41 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury ↑ – As usual, Fleury was the star of the team in another strong effort. He made 33 saves on 34 shots, looking in complete control at all times. The only shot that beat him was a Subban blast from the point that went through Lovejoy’s legs on a screen so Fleury didn’t see the shot. When he could see the shot though, Fleury was unbeatable. He stopped Byron on a semi-breakaway with his right arm, had a couple of nice glove saves on Desharnais and Subban from the left circle, and made several nice saves on scrambles and redirects around the crease in the 3rd period as the Canadiens poured it on. Fleury’s positioning was so strong that his 33-save performance seemed quite effortless compared to most games. Not enough can be said about the goaltending that he has provided for this team.

Ian Cole ↗ – Cole quietly put together one of his better efforts of the season as he cleaned up the defensive zone well and put the puck on net every time he had a chance. He finished the game with two pass interceptions, a takeaway, and a forced turnover in the defensive zone to go along with three broken-up passes. He also put 3 shots on net as he generally transitioned well from defense to offense. The only major mistake he made in this game was allowing Byron to get past him for a semi-breakaway, but Fleury was up to the task to bail him out. Though Cole has underperformed compared to what we saw last season, his game has steadied a bit since the coaching change and I still have some hope that he can get back to that level again.

Ben Lovejoy ↘ – Lovejoy had a rough start to the game, and though his overall play improved as the game progressed, he still found himself at fault for a goal against again. On Subban’s goal, Lovejoy skated in front of Fleury to follow Pacioretty and allowed Subban’s shot to go right through his legs as he screened Fleury since he wasn’t even aware that Subban was shooting the puck. Lovejoy did play a positive role in Pittsburgh’s 2nd goal though, getting in the way of Carr so Dumoulin could get a loose puck and feed it to Bonino to start the rush up ice. Lovejoy’s first period was forgettable with two giveaways and a lost puck, but he settled down to force a couple turnovers and he broke up a few passes in the 3rd period as the Canadiens made a late push. Lovejoy and the Lovejoy/Dumoulin pairing continue to be my biggest concern on the defense right now.

Random Thoughts

Board Play – The Penguins struggled to clear the puck along the boards the last time they played against the Canadiens and the same held true in this game. There were a plethora of failed clearing attempts up the boards as Montreal continually gave up the middle of the ice so they could sell out for the boards. When the Pens occasionally did try to go up the middle, it was often a weak play on the puck that still managed to end in a turnover due to Montreal’s speed. While this was an issue and something that seems like a Montreal-specific matchup issue, the Pens improved their own board play in the Canadiens zone significantly and gave the Canadiens their own issues with clearing the puck. PK Subban even referred to them as the Harlem Globetrotters (Scuderi is rolling in his press box seat) after the game with how they were continuously regrouping and attacking. The Pens could use a little more support with skating towards passes along the boards in the defensive zone, but their offensive zone support continues to be excellent at least.

Your thoughts, Therrien?

Shooting Percentages – I (and many others) have mentioned shooting percentages several times throughout the year with Crosby’s slow start, Kunitz’s incompetence, and Perron’s…I don’t even know what Perron’s issue is. Right now, the Penguins are 29th in shooting percentage at 7.32%. Who knows if players will move towards their career averages (Crosby and Hornqvist are certainly on their way), but here’s a look at some of the more veteran guys and where they stand:

Gm 41 Shooting

Just imagine where Kessel would be if he didn’t miss so many wide open chances…as for Perron and Kunitz, yikes.

Halfway Mark – At the halfway mark, the Pens sit just barely out of the playoffs in a very tight wild card race. It’s actually a tight race all over aside from the Caps leading the Metro by 16 points (keep beating everyone and helping the Pens please). With all of the turmoil the team has gone through already (coaching change, rifts?, slumps), the Pens are still well within range of finishing as high as 2nd in the division since the Rangers and Islanders are each only 4 points ahead of them and there are still many games to be played against those teams. On the other side of things, New Jersey is tied with the Penguins, while Carolina and Philadelphia are only 2 points back. The Pens play the Hurricanes twice in the next 2 weeks and Philadelphia as well, so it’s time for the team to put some space between them and the teams they should be better than. Things are looking up, but there is very little room for error for the rest of the season.

Goals Recap

1st Penguins Goal (Hornqvist) (PP)

Pittsburgh Contributions
E. Malkin – gets to a loose puck in the right corner of the Canadiens zone after a blocked shot and throws it around the boards behind the net for Kessel
P. Kessel – makes a one-touch pass on a bouncing puck in the left corner to the front of the net for Hornqvist
P. Hornqvist – knocks the puck forward as he’s crossing in front of the crease so it goes over Condon’s poke check, then backhands the puck past Condon’s right pad
Montreal Faults
T. Mitchell – in the penalty box for high-sticking
P. Byron – overcompensates for Malkin moving the puck around the boards and skates away from the crease, where Hornqvist is left alone in front of Condon and scores

1st Canadiens Goal (Subban)

Montreal Contributions
T. Plekanec – wins a faceoff in the right circle in the Penguins zone to Markov along the right-side boards
A. Markov – backhands the puck to Subban at the top of the zone
P. Subban – one-times Markov’s pass past a screen by Pacioretty and Lovejoy so it goes past Fleury’s right side
M. Pacioretty – skates across the slot and draws Lovejoy there, which sets a screen in front of Fleury
Pittsburgh Faults
B. Lovejoy – skates into the slot following Pacioretty and screens Fleury as Subban’s shot goes between his legs and past Fleury’s right side

2nd Penguins Goal (Rust)

Pittsburgh Contributions
B. Lovejoy – slightly interferes with Carr in the neutral zone so he can’t take the pass, allowing the puck to go back to Dumoulin in the defensive zone
B. Dumoulin – corrals the puck and passes it across the ice to Bonino exiting the right side of the zone
N. Bonino – carries the puck into the right side of the Canadiens zone as he attracts the attention of every Canadien in the area, then backhands a pass to Rust skating into the middle of the zone alone
B. Rust – gets into the slot 1-on-1 against Condon and fires a wrist shot past his glove
Montreal Faults
G. Pateryn – doesn’t read the play as a partial 3-on-2 and steps up on Bonino, which leaves an open lane to the net for Rust
S. Andrighetto – peels off of his coverage of Rust to pressure Bonino as Pateryn also steps up on Bonino, which allows Bonino to get the pass to Rust with an open lane to the net

3rd Penguins Goal (Fehr) (SH) (EN)

Pittsburgh Contributions
E. Fehr – intercepts Markov’s pass at the top of the Penguins zone and skates it down to the empty net for a goal
Montreal Faults
A. Markov – tries to make a one-touch pass across the top of the Penguins zone, but doesn’t get enough on it as Fehr intercepts the pass and skates it to the empty net


Next Game: Tues, 1/12 @ Car, 7pm

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