X’S & O’s
The two most impressive AHL forward callups this season for the Penguins have been Jason Megna and Brian Gibbons. Megna with great speed and instincts has the look of a future third line player in Dan Bylsma’s system.
Gibbons has surprisingly not looked out of place during the most part for 11 NHL games this season. Getting an opportunity to play with top talent in Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, Gibbons has played well in flashes and is showing some intrigue.
Gibbons breakaway goal vs the Canucks was an NHL play.
On the goal, Gibbons pokes the puck away from a top tier defenseman in Dan Hamhuis and is off the races, showing some serious NHL speed, beating a trailing Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev and Gibbons makes a beautiful move on Eddie Lack, sliding the puck between Lack’s legs by going backhand to forehand for the goal.
As Hansen was closing in, Gibbons shielded the puck perfectly taking away the poke check opportunity and it was a big time goal from Gibbons.
Gibbons has been Wilkes Barre’s best player this season and remains their leading scorer despite the couple callups to the NHL. Listed at 5-foot-8, 170-pounds, Gibbons does not play that small.
He was very effective in getting to pucks on the forecheck last night and his wall play is not a huge weakness like it is for many AHL type players. The Penguins might be able to get by for now with Gibbons as the first line right wing until Beau Bennett returns after the Olympics or unit the Penguins made a trade.
SYSTEM PLAY FOR PENGUINS DEFENSIVELY
It shouldn’t be a shock that the Penguins get healthier and suddenly are not playing as stout defensively as they were when they had several AHL guys in the lineup.
As I’ve said in the past, for Bylsma it’s much easier to get callups and AHL guys to play how you want than the star and core players. That’s always been an issue for him and we’re seeing that the past couple games as the Penguins have surrendered 9 goals in their last two games, including 29 goals in their last eight games, 3.63 goals against per game during that span.
BREAKING DOWN PENGUINS POOR GAP CONTROL VS CANUCKS
What plagued the Penguins vs the Canucks defensively was poor gap control, especially in the third period. Two of the culprits last night were Simon Despres and Brooks Orpik.
With the game tied 2-2, the Canucks broke the game wide open on goals 17 seconds apart from Chris Higgins and Zach Kassian.
WHAT WENT WRONG
GOAL: 3RD PERIOD 13:07 Chris Higgins (12) Backhand shot, assists Jannik Hansen, Yannick Weber
On the Higgins breakaway goal that put the Canucks up 3-2, it was a breakdown in three facets for the Penguins:
1. Forwards Taylor Pyatt, Joe Vitale, and Tanner Glass all got caught deep in the offensive zone.
2. Kris Letang was caught in no mans land. As the puck bounced into the slot to Jannik Hansen, Letang was over on the right boards at the top of the point, leaving a clear opportunity for Hansen to make a beautiful seam pass to a streaking Higgins. With a scramble in front, Letang is seen going from the middle of the ice at the point to venturing over to the boards which took him out of position on the play.
3. The one rule for a defenseman is to not let anyone get behind you. Simon Despres was initially in decent position as he was back in the neutral zone at center ice but once Higgins opened up for an opportunity to take a pass as he gets behind Despres, Despres opts not to turn to Higgins and take the man and instead gets caught with poor gap control where Hansen makes a great dish. Poor awareness not to move towards Higgins faulted Despres to defend the pass from Hansen. After the goal you could see the frustration from Despres and it was not a strong night as he was a minus-2 in the game and was on the ice for 2 even strength goals against.
GOAL 3rd Period 13:24 Zack Kassian (8) Backhand shot, Assists Chris Higgins, Kevin Bieska
The Kassian goal that put the Canucks up 4-2 with under seven minutes to play, saw the Penguins initially be in good position to defend the Canucks in transition.
Kassian comes through the neutral zone with speed along with Higgins and Ryan Kesler and the Penguins have three players back in defensemen Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and forward James Neal making it a 3-on-3 rush.
Kassian moves the puck over to Higgins on the left boards just inside the Penguins blueline and Rob Scuderi has him defended in what becomes a man-to-man situation and the key play here is being able to defend a driving Kassian to the net who gets inside position on Brooks Orpik and Kassian takes a pass from Higgins and beats Marc Andre Fleury top shelf.
When Kassian moves the puck over to Higgins on the left side, Orpik is initially in good position as he moves right a few steps but then Orpik starts leaning left and tries to take the body on Kassian but misses as Kassian gets inside position for the goal.
I’ve been a big Orpik guy and he’s gotten too much criticism from the fan base over the past couple years, but as I wrote a few days ago, Orpik’s play is becoming a concern for a player the team is relying on to play a shutdown role and and I’m starting to see some signs where he’s just not the player he use to be that many around the league still think he is.
As readers could see in Scott Burnside’s Team USA feature that had Burnside involved in the meetings, Orpik is still thought of as a top tier defenseman as Team USA brass viewed him as a lock to make the team going into their November meetings.