The Penguins rewarded their fans that stayed up to watch their tilt against the Los Angeles Kings with a victory. The story of last night’s game was slightly improved defense, solid goaltending, bad referees, stupid Kings’ Penalties and pretty much just one line of forwards.
No, the Penguins defense wasn’t spectacular. They did cut down on the number of breakaways and funneled most of the shots to the perimeter but it was hardly a tour de force effort from the Penguins’ “D”. The Penguins did manage to out shoot their opponent, in no small part to some stupid penalties but at even strength Los Angeles held a land slide advantage in shot attempts. It was still a question of the usual suspects.
Kris Letang once again got himself caught out of position with a bad decision to join the attack. His decision left partner Brian Dumoulin holding the bag. With Letang deep in the zone, Kings’ Defenseman and former Penguins’ 5th round draft choice cleared the puck up passed Phil Kessel to Anze Kopitar to break out of their defensive zone. Kopitar then found Adrian Kempe in behind Dumoulin who had stepped up to support Kessel. Kempe then had a clean break toward DeSmith and beat the Rookie Goaltender. As the puck tickled the twine at the back of the net, Letang was finally visible at the extreme edge of the camera view trying to get back into the play.
Letang and Dumoulin finished the game -1, dropping Letang to a -16, worst on the team. Letang also finished the night with a -10 even strength CORSI.
Matt Hunwick was the big loser among Penguins “D” last night when it comes to CORSI numbers. After finally climbing into the positive numbers in his even strength CORSI, last night, Hunwick’s -11 in his CORSI dropped him back down to -10 for the season.
Fortunately, Casey DeSmith was equal to the task.
Last night was rookie Casey DeSmith’s first start and he was able to skate away with the win. He didn’t have to make many of the spectacular saves that Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry have had to make all season, but he got the job done. DeSmith displayed good positioning, giving King’s shooters little at which to shoot (17 missed shots for the Kings). DeSmith also showed good rebound control, smothering, catching and holding on to pucks, not giving Kings’ shooters second opportunities. All-in-all a good first NHL start for DeSmith.
The Kings didn’t really help their own cause with a triad of stupid penalties in the third period, playing 9 minutes of the final 15 minutes short-handed. Dustin Brown started off the stupidity with very dangerous boarding penalty when he drove a defenseless, already on his knees on the ice, Justin Schultz head first into the boards with a cross-check to the back of the neck (apparently Schultz passed the concussion protocol). That gave the Penguins a 5 minute major power play to work on, during which Hornqvist cashed in to seal the game.
Tyler Toffoli then took a tripping penalty about 4 minutes after the Major Penalty to Brown expired. Toffoli was visibly upset at getting tossed in the box as it appeared that the trip was precipitated by some interference by a Penguins’ defender (I didn’t catch the number). Considering some of the dangerous play that the referees let go earlier, I can understand why Toffoli was upset.
Only one second after the Tofolli was released from the Penalty Box, Kopitar was sent packing, after a blatant slash right in front of the referee, on Carl Hagelin’s stick. That pretty much ended any chances of the Kings’ breaking their losing streak.
Before Dustin Brown decided to try and injure Justin Schultz, Christian Folin tried to injure Jamie Oleksiak. He hit the “Big Rig” up high at the same time kicking the Penguins’ defenseman’s skate out from under him. Nothing at all was going to get called on the play by the referees until Evgeni Malkin took matters into his own hands and took a shot at Folin. The scrum between the 2 was actually less dangerous than the play that participated it but the referees only handed out roughing penalties. Maybe had the Referees made the call on Folin, Brown may not have been emboldened enough to attack Schultz.
It will be interesting to see if there will be a Players Safety review on either play. After handing out a 2 game suspension to Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano, ending Cogliano’s games played streak, it would seem that both of those Kings should be getting serious suspensions.
The Penguins offense was pretty much limited to just the line of Hornqvist – Malkin – Hagelin. Hornqvist bookended Malkin’s goal with two extremely well placed shots. The first goal snuck under Jonathan Quick’s leg pads, only 43 seconds into the game. On the second goal, Quick must have been remembering the opening goal and moved to cut away the low shot. When he did Hornqvist climbed the ladder over his shoulder, after showing great patience to get Quick to move first.
Malkin notched the middle and game winning goal just 26 seconds into the third frame. Off of an offense zone face off the Schultz got the puck at the right point and passed quickly over to Olli Maatta at the left point. Pausing just a second to look the net over Maatta wristed the puck toward the net. The shot was blocked in front but Malkin chipped the bouncing puck past the Kings’ Goalie.
After starting the month off on fire, Sidney Crosby was relatively silent last night; not getting on the score sheet until Hornqvist’s power play goal. Crosby was a -1 for the evening with a -4 on his CORSI. Yes, Kopitar had a good game blanketing Crosby, often times stepping across the line with interference that wasn’t called (Mario Lemieux could certainly relate to that) but Mike Sullivan’s line-up juggling may have had something to do with it too.
In a post-game interview Sullivan explained that he inserted Jean-Sebastien Dea (a Center) into the line-up to free-up Jake Guentzel to return to the Wing. In the line-up switch, Daniel Sprong was ticketed for the odd man out. Sullivan then reunited diminutive Conor Sheary with the Captain. That may have been the real head scratcher of the night. Although moving Guentzel back to Wing would seem the right step but Sheary should be the player getting press-box time. Sheary is a -12 on the season while Sprong is a +2. Sheary was CORSI nightmare playing Crosby’s line and only recently clawed his way to a positive CORSI while Sprong not only invigorated Crosby, has a better CORSI differential in raw numbers despite only playing 8 games.
There was a note on a fantasy hockey site yesterday suggesting that the Penguins will be sending Sprong back down to Wilkes Barre – Scranton. Please Mr. Sullivan don’t make that mistake. Put Sprong back in on Crosby’s Right Wing and give Sheary that much needed press box time. Show Sprong the same patience you have shown Riley Sheahan, Sheary, Letang, and Hunwick. He is doing everything right. Since he has far more scoring talent than Sheary, it will really start falling for him. He will be a regular on the score sheet and the much needed wins to make the play-offs will happen.