#1: About two or three times a year the Penguins will lay an absolute stinker of a game and Mike Sullivan and Sidney Crosby will take accountability for it with a certain resolve behind their words. Friday’s 5-1 loss in New York was a perfect example.
More Sid: “There wasn't a lot that we could take from that one, to be honest with you. We just can't expect to show up and get a win. We got to make sure that we don't have an effort like that for the rest of the year. That's something that we just can't accept."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 26, 2022
Coach Sullivan: "We got outplayed in every facet of the game. We got outcoached in every facet of the game. There are no excuses for it. They were just way better than us in every area."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 26, 2022
Post-game analysis: https://t.co/gzPzgSiR4X pic.twitter.com/GYeQTEnuFC
The prior great example of this was in mid-November, that weekend the Pens lost 6-3 to Ottawa and then got blown out of the building 6-1 in Washington. It was the same general feeling Sullivan and Crosby laid about above back then.
Bad games and no shows happen. It’s a long season and some nights you just don’t have it, and sometimes a game spirals out of control. The response is what matters. The Penguins have one of the best coaches in the NHL, and one of the best leaders in the NHL in their captain. When they’re down and when they get embarrassed, it gets addressed.
Back in November, after low point of being dominated by the Caps, the Pens still lost 2-1 in their next game to Buffalo (the Pens outshot the Sabres 46-19 though, and Dustin Tokarski of all players stood on his head). After getting that out of their system, Pittsburgh responded by going 22-4-1 in the next two months.
Detroit isn’t much by way of a strong foe, but the response this time around was even better with an 11-2 victory. Given strength of scheduling another 22-4-1 run probably isn’t in the cards, but time will tell if Friday’s embarrassing loss could be used as a turning point for the stretch run.
#2: Can’t find the clip online, but Jeff Carter was clearly trying to pickup Kasperi Kapanen on the bench in Nashville on March 15th. Kapanen had gotten a great scoring chance but only hit iron. He was mired in a huge slump. Kapanen is a player who can run incredibly hot and cold, and when it’s not going, it effects him even further. He hangs his head, loses confidence. The veteran Carter was trying to encourage and lift the spirits of his young linemate.
It seems to have helped. In the six games since, Kapanen has four points (2G+2A). That’s not going to put him in the Art Ross race, but in the three months from mid-December to mid-March Kapanen only had two goals in 31 games.
After the deadline the roster has developed to the point that the Pens’ third line is going to sink or swim based on being built around Carter and Kapanen. So far, so good. Kapanen is playing better as of late, and the Carter influence and input on his game is a big reason why.
#3: Sidney Crosby has still got it:
Crosby missed 12 games early in the season because of wrist surgery and Covid. He only had 3 points in his first 8 games and clearly wasn’t himself.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) March 28, 2022
Since then, he has 66 points in 47 games. That’s 1.40 points per game. Only McDavid and Draisaitl have a better PPG this season.
The 2015-16 Pens’ team was a revolutionary group because they were quite frankly the best team on paper. Matt Murray had come up from the minor leagues and was almost unbeatable in net. Kris Letang was playing at a truly elite level and supported by a host of good defenders. Up front the Pens had a Crosby line, and Evgeni Malkin line and HBK. Matt Cullen was doing good things on the fourth line. It’s almost impossible to keep that mojo together for long. That team bullied the league and though they were in danger at times, like in the Tampa series to a hot goalie (the nature of the NHL playoffs), their process and results were flawless.
The 2021-22 Pittsburgh team isn’t as stacked on paper. There’s no Phil Kessel on the third line and so much layered attack. But they still got Sidney Crosby, and even at age-34, he’s still among the very best hockey players in the league right now.
#4: Not far behind Crosby, as always, is Malkin.
Evgeni Malkin's three goals tonight increased his career total to 440, passing Jaromir Jagr for third-place on the @penguins all-time goals list.— Penguins PR (@PenguinsPR) March 28, 2022
His first tally tonight stood as the game winner - the 77th of his career, one shy of Jagr's franchise record of 78. pic.twitter.com/9zc6joinXc
16 goals and 32 points in 30 games this season for Malkin, 10 months off reconstructive knee surgery and through playing with almost every forward on the roster at times along the way. If Rickard Rakell and Bryan Rust settle in as long-term Malkin linemates, that gives Pittsburgh the most talent and depth on the Malkin line in a long, long time.
#5: Rakell by the way, what a player. It was a 10-2 game, so yeah, yeah, but I’m still thinking about the whip and velocity of this shot.
Imagine having to try and save this Rakell shot after being yanked and put back into the game when you’re down by 8 pic.twitter.com/mD4zKJnCYx— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) March 27, 2022
Really enjoying the way Rakell plays, as mentioned in the recap he goes to the net and screens the goalie. (Honestly, I think he might have deflected Malkin’s third goal, but obviously no one is going to change the scoring and take away the pageantry of all that after the fact in a blowout win). Rakell’s hands are very, very good. He’s a heck of an offensive player and possibly the absolute perfect addition for what the Pens needed.
#6: There was a lot of good going on (and this account is a great follow). Rakell led the pack in the gamer score for yesterday:
#NHL GameScore Impact Card for Pittsburgh Penguins on 2022-03-27:#LetsGoPens pic.twitter.com/F55Vjs4Sr0— HockeyStatCards (@hockeystatcards) March 28, 2022
#7: Is it kind of weird that Guentzel was at the bottom and basically a non-factor in an 11-2 blowout? Guentzel only had one shot attempt yesterday, and it got blocked. It’s very surprising that out of 11 goals, he only recorded one point, a secondary assist on the Crosby goal.
By the way the power play is flowing now, it seems like Guentzel is more net-front or in the net area at least, and all the other four players are handling the puck more. There haven’t been many rebounds for Guentzel to try and clean up, so he’s kind of the extra part right now. In time, surely that will change, just a little strange for as great as the offense was yesterday, one of their best was quiet.
#8: Boy, this is a lot of thoughts and a lot of goals. Glad they didn’t score 12 or 13 (though at the end Brian Boyle sure was trying).
#9: The Pens aren’t alone in scorching the Red Wings, they’ve been all over the map this season.
The Red Wings have now had games this season where they've given up 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 goals against— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) March 27, 2022
It’s still pretty fulfilling to see Malkin score against Detroit. Might just be old memories of 2008 and ‘09, but that never fails to be a very fine sight.
#10: To double dip on Yohe, the lineup thoughts here were interesting:
First period thoughts:— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) March 27, 2022
• Jarry is sharp
• Leave Kapanen/Carter together
• Rakell way more physical than I realized
• Not so sure I’d be taking Zohorna or Boyle out of the lineup
• Not so sure Heinen or E-Rod should be locks to stay in lineup
• Moritz Seider is a star
The Pens have had their top-12 forwards all healthy at the same time for just one game this season. So really, the choice might be made for them via injury as far as which players will be back. As of now the lineup looks like it could be:
Guentzel - Crosby - ?
Rakell - Malkin - Rust
? - Carter - Kapanen
Boyle - Blueger - McGinn
Zucker could be on the first line (though Rust could also slide back up to Crosby and Zucker could slot in second line). Brock McGinn, you would assume has a spot lined up on the fourth line, but can Zohorna make the decision difficult to move him off the line he’s on?
And if so, is that bad news for an Evan Rodrigues or Danton Heinen? There would be more healthy bodies for good forwards than spots available, if it comes to that.
..But that “if it comes to that” qualifier is huge. The Pens have two on IR now, and they’ve never been healthy. Chances are they won’t be for long, if they even get there. But having depth and quality options all over the place is a good way to combat that, and that’s a good spot the Pens are in now.
#11: Now the question becomes what comes next. How does this big win roll over to see the same Rangers again? Pittsburgh on Friday did not have Malkin, and he presumably will be good to go for tomorrow night. That’s obviously a huge difference for the lineup. The Rangers struggled yesterday with Buffalo (who as Pittsburgh recently saw, is no pushover these days), but won in OT.
The offensive outburst was fun, but what comes next and could be built on it would be more important moving forward.