Friday, March 30, 2012

Maybe Panic a Little, Pens Lose to Isles AGAIN

Main Storylines:
- Well, the Pens are coming off an ugly loss – if you want the reminder, check out my recap of that: http://crosbyftw.blogspot.com/2012/03/dont-panic-yet-pens-lose.html

- Fleury gets the start tonight after getting pulled on Tuesday.  Fleury is pretty much unbeatable in games after he’s pulled, so this bodes very well for the Pens.  On the backup goalie side, Thiessen has been sent down and Brent Johnson returns to normal backup duties.

- Tangradi is in the lineup, Park is out.  Vitale, Niskanen, and Letang all remain out.  Bylsma appears to be reuniting last year’s lines, going with Dupuis-Crosby-Kunitz, Neal-Malkin-Sullivan, Cooke-Staal-Kennedy, and Tangradi-Adams-Asham.

- The PK has been downright awful lately, allowing 5 goals on their last 18 tries.  I don’t even have a clue what has changed to make that happen.

Result:
Isles 5  Pens  3
Goals:  Dupuis (24) (SH) from Adams, Martin
            Staal (24) from Michalek, Martin
            Malkin (47) from Kennedy, Cooke

Stats/Milestones:
- Pascal Dupuis extended his career high scoring streak to 12 games with his short-handed goal and added to his career high point total, making it 52
I think Dupuis would inspire an awesome muppet character.

- Malkin tied his career high in goals at 47 and reached the 100 pt mark for the 3rd time.  He is only the 4th Penguin to do so (Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby, no surprises).  He’s the first this year to hit 100 pts and remains 9 points ahead of Stamkos in the Art Ross race.

The Good:

Eric Tangradi – As much as I’m glad to put Tangradi on this list, it also demonstrates how bad the rest of the team was that he starts it off.  Tangradi was one of the rare defensively responsible forwards on the ice against the Isles.  He introduced a physical presence and did a great job on keeping his stick in passing lanes.  He only had 8 shifts, and was still on for a goal against, but I daresay this was one of his better showings in the NHL.  I’m starting to wonder if his offensive game is disappearing bit by bit with his commitment to defense though.

Pascal Dupuis – Easily the hottest player on the team, if not the NHL right now, Dupuis is now on a 12 game point streak.  The only player in the NHL to have a longer streak in the past 2 seasons is that Crosby person everyone talks about.  Dupuis came out full of energy and had a big short-handed goal that brought the Pens back into the game.  My question is, with Dupuis playing lights out hockey, why has he not touched the powerplay?  Not even the first PP line necessarily (thoughts on that later), but the 2nd PP is Cooke-Staal-Kennedy.  Are you telling me Dupuis can’t supplant Kennedy on there??  It’s asinine that Dupuis isn’t receiving time with the man advantage when the PP is cold and he’s red hot.
He can score down a man, why not up a man?

Tyler Kennedy – I felt Kennedy had one of his better games as well tonight.  He was strong with the puck and looked to pass more than we’ve usually seen him do.  The biggest thing that caught my attention was his speed and effort in the corners; he acted as both gritty TK and skilled TK.  Watching him miss a wide open net on the PP (though it was from like a 10 degree angle) was very frustrating though.  He at least had the right idea in his play even if the scoring results weren’t there.

The Bad:
- In a very disturbing trend, the Pens got dominated in puck possession again.  The Isles knew where to be, won the puck battles, intercepted passes, and made life miserable for the Pens in the neutral zone.  Once the Isles had the puck in the Pens D zone, they had very little trouble keeping it and passing it around.  The first goal was simply pathetic as Mark Streit skated behind the net unfollowed and untouched.  While no Pens followed him, everyone watched him so he could pass the puck to an uncovered Marty Reasoner.  That type of play was one that did not exist when the Pens dominated puck possession, but they seem completely lost when they don’t have the puck.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz had the worst game I’ve seen him play in a while.  I have to admit, I was very excited to see him reunited with Crosby before the game, but he looked completely off.  He kept misplaying the puck, was missing his hits, and just seemed generally out of position.  Kuni may have been trying a little too hard with Sid.

Martin/Michalek – Just a short blurb.  I saw them paired up once.  A goal was scored seconds later as they both left the front of the net (though Staal was to blame too for leaving his guy in the slot).  Bylsma’s defense is setup to work where the dmen basically are connected by an invisible rubberband.  One defenseman stays in the slot, the other goes to the right.  If the slot guy moves to the left, the guy on the right move back to the slot.  The slot should always be covered.  These 2 have no communication when it comes to that and seem to always abandon the front of the net when paired together.
I guess covering the slot doesn't matter if you won't do anything there anyways.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin had a nice goal, and played hard in the offensive zone, but I’m going to get on his case for his defensive work here.  I was immensely disappointed with him on the short-handed goal.  I have no problem with him turning the puck over at the point, or that there was a short-handed goal.  The thing that pissed me off was that Malkin stood there after the turnover and just watched as he expected Neal to get the puck.  He didn’t even start to move until the Isles had the puck and a breakaway.  If he starts skating as soon as he sees where the puck is, that play might turn out completely differently. If Geno is going to end up on the point, he has to sprint back to the net immediately on turnovers, he knows that, he’ll tell you himself.

The Ugly:
- Seeing Sidney Crosby take a puck to the face was easily the scariest part of the game.  Luckily he just suffered a bloody nose which didn’t require stitches and he’s okay.  It’s somewhat reassuring that he could take a puck to the face and not be re-concussed.  It’d be nice to have a game where we don’t have to worry about Crosby, that’s for sure.  Maybe when he faces old nemesis Ryan Miller in Buffalo.
Pics I never want to see ever.

- Special Teams pretty much went awry in all facets in this game.  The PP was 0 for 4 and let up a goal.  The PK let up a goal on a fluke bounce off of Engelland’s skate, though at least they did score.  Both units have been struggling lately which is putting the Pens in tough situations no matter how good or bad they are playing.  This was the same formula for losing to Tampa in 7 last year, so brace yourselves if this doesn’t change.

Thoughts:
- A couple thoughts on the lines that Bylsma has used.  First off, the lines change so much in a game that I’m not sure the starting lineup matters anymore, pretty much every possible combination is used, so don’t get too worked up with what the starting lines are.  One thing I was disappointed in though is that Cooke-Crosby-Dupuis has not been used as a line.  Cooke and Crosby clearly have worked well together since Sid’s return.  Add Dupuis as the hottest player on the team and it could be a great spark plug line.  Just my 2 cents on a combination I’d like to see have a few shifts. 

- I’m over the powerplay experiment by now.  There apparently is such a thing as too much talent on one line because the top PP loves to set each other up and defers on far too many shots.  It is almost as if psychologically, the Pens know there is so much talent on the ice that they take less responsibility on themselves individually.  I would rather see 2 very strong lines each playing about a minute, so there is a time factor to press them harder and the talented players on the ice feel more responsible to create things.  My next issue on the PP is WHY IS DUPUIS NOT ON THERE.  Seriously, I’m not crazy enough to put him on the first line, but I can’t comprehend how he hasn’t earned some PP time lately.
Neal watches as the Isles score shorthanded.

- When all is said and done, the Pens don’t deserve to win games in which they play about 15 minutes of good hockey and that’s all they came up with in this game.  There isn’t a single game left this season where playing anything less than 60 minutes will suffice, so the Pens better pick it up immediately.  I was very disappointed with the complete lack of fire they showed to start the game.

- On a happier sidenote, Malkin and Fleury are up for the NHL 13 cover.  You have to vote for one or the other at www.nhl.com/covervote.  My 2 cents here:  Vote for Fleury!!  Malkin gets his trophies: Art Ross, Conn Smythe, soon a Hart probably.  Fleury gets nothing!  So give Fleury the cover!!

- Finally, I need to give credit to the Isles Matt Martin.  Last year, he was trying to beat the crap out of every Penguin on the ice.  This year, though he boarded Brian Strait, he made a very conscious effort to hold Strait up and try to protect him.  I was very impressed with the sportsmanship on the play and it's something that doesn't receive nearly enough attention.  Props to you Matt Martin.
Cooke isn't the only guy to change this year.

Pens Record: 47-24-6, 100 pts, 2nd in the Atlantic, 4th in the East
Next Game:  3/30 @ Buf, 7:30pm

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