Where did the Penguins go? Who were those guys wearing the Black-and-Gold, skating around so clueless in New Jersey?
What a difference 24hrs makes (and not in a good way). After dismantling the division leading Washington Capitals on Friday night 7 – 4, our Penguins did a 180 and pulled a Mr. Hyde on Saturday. On Friday, they had all the answers, on Saturday, they looked like they didn’t even understand the questions.
We could take the cheap and easy way out and blame it on the game being the back end of yet another of the endless back-to-back series. And although that may have had some small effect on the outcome of the game, it hardly explains the fog that the team looked like it was skating in. Furthermore, the team had been skating far better on the back end of those dreaded couplets of late; often winning the second game after losing the first.
During the game, in an on the bench interview, assistant coach Mark Recchi said that the team just had not brought any level of compete through the first period and a half of the match. Maybe Racchi actually believed that; no doubt many others do. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. However, like the back-to-back game excuse, that hardly seems an adequate take on the game either. The players all looked like they were trying their best, hitting their hardest, and once they started skating, skating as fast and hard as they could. It just looked like the team was simply discombobulated.
It looked more like the team was thinking more than playing. Players looked more like they were unsure of where they were supposed to be, or where their wingers were on the ice, rather than simply not trying. It looked to me like a case of over-coaching the team.
With the injury to Patric Hornqvist on the front end of the weekend tilts and the placement of Conor Sheary on Injured Reserve IR, the Penguins called up Zach Aston-Reese. Looking just at Hornqvist and Aston-Reese, the move looks very reasonable. However, the injury issue isn’t that simple, it isn’t just a 2 dimensional problem, with Sheary out also, it is a 3 dimensional problem.
Although I mention the calling up of Aston-Reese first, I don’t really think that had a big effect on the game, nor was it part of the arguments I wanted to present to support the idea that the coaching staff lost this game and not the players. I only mention it first since it was the first step in what I consider the chain of mistakes.
The real beginning of my case start with the coaching staff not simply inserting Aston-Reese in Hornqvist’s slot with Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, so as to disrupt as little of the teams chemistry as was necessary, with the loss of Hornqvist, Tom Kuhnhackl was elevated up to the second line (or line 1b if you prefer) and Aston-Reese was put on the 4th line, disrupting the flow of 2-lines.
Things started spiraling out of control from here, particularly after New Jersey got the first goal. The Penguins started their all too frequent line juggling; line juggling that reaches a fevered pitch as the coaches go into panic mode. It wasn’t until the third period, when the Penguins coaching staff shortened the bench to the pretty much just 6 – 9 players, players who have been playing for the last several years together. It wasn’t until Jake Guentzel was reunited with Sidney Crosby and Malkin with Phil Kessel that the New Jersey Devils had to start to defend their net.
With some time to practice, I do believe Mike Sullivan could have gotten the initial line combinations to workout. However he didn’t have that practice time. In the end, the jumble that was the Penguins lines becomes the most likely factor that gave New Jersey the leg up to number 2 in the division, 1 point ahead of our Penguins.
Odds and Sods
Is it just me, or does Kris Letang look like he has lost a step? I know Taylor Hall is fast, but he blew past Letang as if Letang was nothing more than a pylon. And that wasn’t the first time this season, or even the first time in this game against New Jersey where I saw players out skate the Penguins’ defenseman.
Casey DeSmith took the loss even though he actually played very well, making 35 saves on 38 shots. However, I am willing to bet he would love a “Mulligan” on that first goal, the first one Travis Zajak scored. As the puck drifted lazily out of the corner, in front of the net, I was not all that concerned. I thought the young net minder was going to pounce on it like he has been doing throughout his nascent career. That looked like a no-brainer of a play to make. Instead, DeSmith nonchalantly just blocked the puck from floating up into the slot. Unfortunately for DeSmith, he knocked it right on to Zajak’s stick and the rest is history. I think it was Bob Errey, who voiced his own amazement of DeSmith not freezing the puck during the replay. But Errey’s first thought was to push it hard back to the corner rather than freeze the puck, he only mentioned freezing the puck as an afterthought. Perhaps the referees barking at DeSmith to move the puck caused him to panic on the play.
Malkin broke up the shut-out bid and continued his hot hand, notching his 29th of the year at 6:16 of the third from Kessel and Ian Cole (Why was he on the bench all those games?).
Mike Sullivan said he didn’t expect Hornqvist to be out long but there was no definite news yet.
Wilkes-Barre Scranton WBS continued to role with a 2 – 1 win against Lehigh Valley. Daniel Sprong notched his 20th goal and it was the game winner. Tristan Jarry got the win. Jean-Sebastien Dea score the Baby Penguins other goal. Andrey Pedan was a +1 for the game and had 4 of the team’s 21 shots.
Please don’t get my earlier rant about Aston-Reese wrong. I applaud the move and have been wanting to see what he could do against NHL calibre players, with NHL calibre line mates. He didn’t disappointment at all, in his limited ice time. I was commenting on the team not really getting a chance to get used to line-mates amidst all of the frenetic line juggling.