Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pens fall to Bruins in OT, 4-3; Whatever.

By GTOG Staff

Like we said after the first Boston game (which the Pens won, 3-2), there's no point in getting too worked up about the final score of these games against Boston.  Whether the Pens go 4-0 or 0-4 against Boston in the regular season is less important than whether the Pens are making strides in their ability to beat Boston in a 7-game playoff series.  There is some evidence that they are.  And some evidence that they're not.

In the playoffs, we'd like to be as far away from Loui Eriksson as possible.
The best and worst thing about this game is that the Pens rallied from being down 2-0 and 3-2.  The Pens stayed patient until, literally, there was no time left in the game.  But the Pens also failed to capitalize during a strong opening 10 minutes and then, in the blink of an eye, ceded all control of the game and scoreboard to Boston.  If you want to take the glass-half-full view of this series of events, here you go: That the Pens are going to play well, not score, and then fall behind quickly is well known.  So taking that as a given flaw of this team, it's encouraging that the Pens have shown some degree of mental toughness in not folding in the last two games.

Some other thoughts after the jump...

- That Deryk Engelland regularly plays over Robert Bortuzzo is laughable on a tactical level, but sad from an organizational development perspective.  Bortuzzo is 24.  Deryk Engelland is 31.  If the Pens aren't fully satisfied with Bortuzzo's development, maybe they could, you know, try to develop him.  All things being equal between Engelland and Bob -- and that's a generous way of framing the discussion for Engelland -- there is no reason not to play the younger guy who might actually improve.  How is Bortuzzo supposed to get better?  By having awkward conversations during the game with Tie Domi in Mario's suite?

Here's a quick challenge: name one young player Dan Bylsma has developed into a reliable, every day NHL player.

"Can I answer?"
- We're trying not to react too extremely to Kris Letang right now, but the guy has been mediocre this season or, if you're feeling generous, he's been underwhelming compared to what he's capable of.  The biggest concern about him is that he is getting worse, not better.  Once thought to be limitless, his ceiling now apparently does not even include the top power play.  In one of our few spreadsheet indulgences that hasn't backfired, we tackled the Letang PP issue last year and came to the unsurprising conclusion that the guy is average, at best, on the power play.  Credit to the Pens for recognizing this and taking him off the top unit.


He's been replaced by Paul Martin, whose slapshot tops out at about 70mph.  It's smart coaching because it works better, but is this not at least a little embarrassing for everyone involved?

If you're going to pay a guy $7.25M and not play him on the top power play, he better be good everywhere else on the ice.  And Letang hasn't been.  If ever there was a play emblematic of why he's so frustrating, it's this from last night:

Yeah we know, we could make video of every player making bad plays, but not every player makes the money Letang makes and does this on a semi-regular basis.  We'd love to know what happens when the Pens watch film of this play.  Does Letang cut it off after the nice stutter move out of the corner, pat himself on the back, and then go film a workout video?  Does Bylsma even show the turnover to Letang?  Does whoever Letang is attempting to pass it to ever ask himself why he's so far away from his defensemen on the breakout?  Does anyone think about whether it's a good idea to attempt 60 foot cross ice breakout passes through people's legs against Boston?  Does Bylsma find a way to use this play as a reason to bench Bob Bortuzzo?

- Crosby played 17 minutes at 5 on 5 against Chara last night.  His game tying goal was a great moment that salvaged what was otherwise not one of his better games.

- On the positive side, the Pens were pretty good once inside the Boston zone.  There was traffic, and when there wasn't, there was James Neal's shot.

- Beau Bennett's hands appear to be made out of Aaron Smith's triceps.  He's out 8-10 weeks.  There's a realistic chance this leads to the first ever on-ice homicide, as Sidney Crosby is all but certain within the next month to remove his skate during play and actually kill Matt D'Agostini.

- The bottom 6 -- emphasis on the word "bottom" -- was predictably unimpressive last night, though to give credit where it's due, Joe Vitale has played some pretty decent hockey the last few weeks.  He's at least noticeable.  His career goal scoring pace averages out to 4 goals every 82 games ... but at least he's noticeable during the other 78!


  1. One thing I noticed last night...Brian Gibbons falls down on a majority of his shifts. Whenever he's involved with even the slightest amount of contact on the board, he hits the deck. He may be a weaker version of Chris Bourque if at all possible.

    1. When you're 5'8", 170lbs, that can happen. He's been ok, though. Just ok.

  2. I can only assume that Letang is being encouraged to play this way by the coaching staff. It makes no sense that all four of those dudes (with Jacques Martin being one of the most defensive-minded coaches of the last 20 years) would fail to see what every fan with internet access has seen.

    Letang freely distributes the puck to the other team, but somehow he's the Pens' best defenseman by way of corsi, and the team as a whole seems to have no issue keeping pucks out of the net while scoring a fair amount. I don't know what to make of any of this.

    The power play business, though, is pretty bad.

    1. And therein lies the frustration. If he could flip maybe 2-3 plays per game from "terrible play" to "neutral, safe play," everyone would stop ragging on him. He's not far from being a great player, but he doesn't seem like he's getting any closer to it either, if that makes sense.