Following Wednesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Penguins go into the All-Star break, having lost 10 of 14 and have a winning percentage below .545 since December 1.
There have been some concerning losses of late, but last night’s loss to the Blackhawks surely wasn’t one.
Already missing Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, it was a game where the Penguins could have just rolled over after the Blackhawks dominated the first period and took a 2-0 lead just 2:41 into the second period.
The Hawks playing a wide open skilled game, played into how the Penguins want to play and what Pittsburgh did effectively from the second period on was crashing the net and creating offense off jam plays in around the net, an area the Hawks “D” can be exploited. The Penguins got secondary scoring from Zach Sill (1) and Steve Downie (8) in the second period and a key for Pittsburgh was their bottom-2 lines being physical down low and creating offense off the cycle.
The Mark Arcobello (72 CF%) – Marcel Goc (70.8 CF%) – Steve Downie (69.6 CF%) line was very good and created sustained pressure in the final two periods. Arcobello had his best game in a Penguins uniform.
Pittsburgh was very physical on the Blackhawks “D” and wore them down as the game went on. Hits are always a skewed stat and sometimes a “garbage” stat as Brooks Orpik would say, the Penguins, though, were credited with 50 hits, Blackhawks just 27 which sounds about right.
It was officially a loss for the Penguins but it was a needed performance going into the break.
— Marian Hossa was the games No. 1 star with a goal, assist, and at age 36 remains a dominant two-way player. Hossa put on a show last night and nearly ended the game in overtime after walking around Scott Harrington in the slot and just shooting the puck wide after avoiding a Marc Andre Fleury poke check.
Hossa and Jonathan Toews are not regarded as the best one-two punch in hockey statistically but they are up there when it comes to toughest center-winger combo to defend.
— The Blackhawks second line of Patrick Sharp – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane was invisible and it’s no surprise the Blackhawks are on the hunt for a second line center. That’s a need area them.
— Mike Johnston got a bit too caught up in the moment of wanting to keep Sidney Crosby away from Toews. Craig Adams played more than Crosby in the final 10 minutes of regulation vs Philadelphia and with 41.9 seconds left in the third period last night against Chicago, the Penguins had an offensive zone faceoff in the left circle and Johnston took the Crosby line off the ice because Toews was out there. Instead of putting a left handed centerman on the ice, he sent Brandon Sutter, a right handed shot, to take the faceoff on his off-side and lost the draw. Spaling – Sutter – Adams finished the period. The Crosby unit came on the ice with 1:01 left and were taken off 19 seconds later for Spaling – Sutter – Adams. That’s a playing for the overtime mindset.
— With Letang out, last night was another great opportunity to get Christian Ehrhoff and his booming shot on the top power play unit. Didn’t happen. Pittsburgh was 0-2 on the man advantage after an 0-6 night vs the Flyers. The coaching staff opted to use Paul Martin as a distributor at the point and Martin’s lack of shot threat doesn’t match what Rick Tocchet seeks in shots/crashing the net on power play.
— The Penguins think very highly of Scott Harrington and loves his upside as a potential shutdown defenseman with visions of him being a long-term replacement for Paul Martin, who can play 20+ minutes in all situations. However, right now just isn’t his time and that’s becoming clear. He’s been exposed defensively against the better teams (was a little better vs Chicago), while Derrick Pouliot looked great again. This Penguins blueline is not good enough to win a Cup as constructed. The Penguins with limited cap space, have to look for outside help or take the pros and cons with Pouliot, a great offensive talent who won’t improve the Penguins defensively, but can give them more in the transition game and offensive zone to potentially outweigh the defensive risks.
— Marc Andre Fleury’s .896 save percentage over his last 12 starts has seen his save percentage on the season go from .933 on December 21st, down to .921 on the season in a matter of four weeks. Fleury has never posted a save percentage above .920 when he’s appeared in 36 or more games. His career high for save percentage is .921 in 2007-2008, appearing in just 35 games that season.
— John Shannon of Sportsnet reported last night that Kris Letang is out indefinitely. Because Letang skated Wednesday morning, when sources in the Letang camp say he shouldn’t have been allowed to as he had concussion like symptoms Tuesday night and is dealing with significant neck pain, the Penguins as expected are privately denying any reports that state Letang will be out for an extended period. We’ll see how this plays out but the Penguins rarely being cautious enough with star players often comes back to bite them.
— Evgeni Malkin certainly would have played last night if it was a playoff game, though, he has been dealing with tenderness in his knee, according to a source. Nothing considered too serious but the Penguins intend to hold him out for at least a week, maybe longer. He gets out of the All-Star game and is not expected to play Tuesday vs Winnipeg.