PENS – SENATORS FALLOUT
1. It was defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown for the Penguins in their 8-4 loss Saturday night to the Ottawa Senators.
The Penguins have been a team in the previous couple games where they got away with breakdowns defensively that weren’t showing up on the score sheet. Last night it finally caught up with them.
“You never want to lose but you also don’t want to get away with the kind of mistakes that we made tonight,” captain Sidney Crosby said on the Penguins loss. “Sometimes that gives you a false sense of security, when you get away with stuff like that, so I think we have to make sure that we’re keeping good habits here.”
The offensive opportunistic Penguins had woeful fundamentals defensively and got caught losing the Senators in space all night.
Where the Senators exploited the Penguins early on was Ottawa having their defensemen active in the offensive zone, jumping into the play from the blueline to the high slot and Sergei Gonchar’s goal 33 seconds into the second period was a prime example of that where Steve Sullivan got caught watching the puck and lost Gonchar in space, and Nick Foligno found a breaking Gonchar to tie the game at 2-2.
From there, the Senators continued to get behind the Penguins, scoring two breakaway goals and producing numerous odd-man rushes. The biggest head scratcher was Jason Spezza’s third period breakaway goal at 13:16 when Spezza somehow got behind Brooks Orpik who might have had his worst game since his rookie year. Orpik, Zbynek Michalek and Evgeni Malkin were all a minus-4 in the game.
2. Ottawa has taken the season series, winning 3 of 4 games and it’s possible the two teams could meet in a 1-8 matchup. Currently the No. 4 seed, the Penguins fell three points behind the Rangers for first place and Philadelphia moved two points behind the Penguins for the No. 4 seed, defeating Montreal 4-1 last night. The Senators in the No. 7 spot, have just a two point lead over the No. 8 Buffalo Sabres and four point lead over No. 9 Washington. Ottawa has given Pittsburgh fits defensively, scoring 19 goals in their last three games vs Pittsburgh. Would be an intriguing 1-8 matchup and how they attacked the Penguins offensively will be something other teams take notice of.
3. “There weren’t a lot of pucks that he had a chance on that went in,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said about Brad Thiessen’s performance last night. While that might be true, Thiessen has showed little that the Penguins will feel comfortable going into next season with him as their primary backup behind Marc Andre Fleury.
This situation appears similar to John Curry following the 2008-2009 season where the Penguins were hopeful Curry would emerge as a true NHL backup, but the team never regarded him as one and signed Brent Johnson to a two year deal that summer. The team will likely look for a veteran netminder this summer.
4. Matt Cooke’s two goal night vs Ottawa gives him 7 goals in six games since being put on a line with Sidney Crosby on March 15th. In Cooke’s previous 40 games prior to 3/15, Cooke had 6 goals in 40 games. Sidney Crosby may earn Cooke an extension this summer as Cooke is one goal away from his first 20 goal season.
5. Cooke was among those after last night’s game pointing the finger at the refs. “I didn’t touch him,” Cooke said about being called for an interference penalty at 5:54 of the second period. Chris Phillips would score a power play marker a 1:11 later to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead. “It’s embarrassing. The referee sees the goalie go down like that, looks to see who it is. He didn’t even see the play happen and calls a penalty. Cost us a goal, ” Cooke said.
While Cooke should worry about the Penguins defensive woes more than the refs, one big issue in the past couple months has been teams getting away with holding up incoming forecheckers through screens and blatantly getting in front of forecheckers and it’s happening all the time.
“They’re staring at penalties that they’re not calling intentionally,” Cooke said. “It’s frustrating.”