DETROIT 4 – PITTSBURGH 3 (OT)
OBSERVATION #1 – DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS
Defensive breakdowns were the story line for the Penguins 4-3 overtime loss Thursday night to the Detroit Red Wings. If the Penguins want to count themselves among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, it’s going to have to start in their own zone. Teams that win hockey games in April, May and June don’t blow two-goal leads in the third period like the Penguins did tonight.
On both of Niklas Kronwall’s goals, the forwards were caught running around in their own zone. In each instance, the forwards were too low in their own zone and the team had four players below the hash marks. With that amount of traffic in front, and with giving the Detroit blue liners that time and space to work with, it’s hard to fault goaltender Thomas Greiss.
Even Mike Johnston said in his post-game press conference, “We have to learn to play with the lead.”
OBSERVATION #2 – THOMAS GREISS
The point the Penguins earned tonight was earned in large part thanks to the play of goalie Thomas Greiss. The Penguins went 3-3 on the penalty kill, and Greiss was hands down their best penalty killer. On numerous occasions, Greiss showed poise by sliding laterally across his crease to stop one-time feeds that the Penguins defensemen were letting through.
Greiss uses a very active stick to take away passes down low and was also very good at tracking pucks through the screens that came from point shots. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Greiss play 25 games this season if he continues to play with the poise he displayed Thursday night.
OBSERVATION #3 – OLLI MAATTA
Is Olli Maatta the team’s best defenseman? While it’s too soon to give the young Finn that accolade, he certainly has built on his solid rookie season and has flourished under new coach Mike Johnston’s system.
Maatta has no problem lugging the puck up the ice and taking the play with him. His confidence often sees him leading the rush and creating space in the offensive zone by driving to the net after putting a crisp pass on a forward’s stick that he opened up space for.
Maatta’s calm demeanor serves him well in all three zones. He rarely coughs up the puck and is effective on the power play and penalty kill. If Maatta and Kris Letang can mesh well, that could be the Penguins’ top defensive pairing for the foreseeable future.
OBSERVATION #4 – OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW?
Former general manager Ray Shero and former head coach Dan Bylsma always were loyal to veterans Craig Adams and Rob Scuderi. Will both players be in the lineup when the team is fully healthy?
Adams simply cannot keep up with the pace of the game anymore. Even on the penalty kill, he has issues tracking pucks, winning puck battles and taking away shooting and passing lanes. The Penguins would be better served to keep Zach Sill in the lineup over Adams when the team is fully healthy.
With Scuderi seeing less time on the penalty kill, what is the ultimate plan for him? It was previously thought he would lead the blue line on the PK, but that hasn’t been the case recently. Does he have value beyond that? He has struggled to make 10-foot passes in his own zone and his foot speed has always been an issue. With Scott Harrington knocking on the door and by most accounts ready for the NHL, and with Robert Bortuzzo ready to come back any game now, I can’t imagine Scuderi will be a regular in the lineup when the team is healthy.
The organization’s depth up front and on the blue line makes it far from a guarantee that Scuderi and Adams draw in the lineup regularly.
PENGUINS – RED WINGS BY THE NUMBERS
Detroit outshot Pittsburgh 31-26 in the win…… Pittsburgh held a 45-42 edge in shot attempts……Pittsburgh and Detroit each went 0-3 on the power play……Sidney Crosby went pointless for the second straight game…… With no Evgeni Malkin on his line, Brandon Sutter posted a CF% of 27.0 at even strength vs the Red Wings…Simon Despres led the Penguins with 6 hits…..