Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pens follow up domination of Caps with win over Isles

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Whether last night's 4-3 win over the Islanders goes down as great win against a potent team or a harbinger of loose play to come will sort of depend on the next few games.  But in either case, it was a ton of fun watching the Pens -- and especially Crosby and Malkin -- dazzle.  We hate when the Pens get in track meets because we know the Pens' D and goaltending (Zatkoff? Yikes) can get sloppy.  But imagine how other teams feel when they get into a track meet against the Pens?

A lot of this.
Though their line wasn't great defensively, Crosby and Kunitz were generating at least two high quality scoring chances every shift.  I know there are a lot of wingers in the NHL who are better than Kunitz ... but how many are actually playing better?  His combination of being a straight-line-skating grinder and still-improving Handsiness is pretty much unmatched.  The guy is entering his mid-30's and still getting better.  He's like a more wholesome Barry Bonds, with softer hands and a smaller head.

And a lot of this.
Malkin's improved play of late is also encouraging, and it probably has a lot to do with James Neal finally settling into the season.  They're also buzzing every shift.

As for the Caps game on Wednesday, that was a complete deconstruction.  After Ovechkin hit the post early, the Caps basically folded and the Pens were completely dominant.  It's amazing watching Crosby in Malkin in person because you really see how much space they create for other players.  If you're just focusing on the matchup of them and the closest player, you're missing the whole game going on away from the play.  A lot of what they do is buy time for other guys to get open.  They're incredible.

A few other thoughts after the jump...

- Maybe the Pens just can't resist getting into a track meet with the Islanders, or maybe the Islanders just aren't good enough to do two things at once, like play offense and defense.  The Islanders are a tough matchup for the Pens (and everyone else) because of their speed, but the Pens are a nightmare matchup for the Islanders because of Crosby and Malkin.  You want to have Tavares, Okposo, Neilsen, and Vanekgo toe-to-toe with Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, and Neal?  Fine, but if you play that game 6 straight times, the Isles may hold the Pens to fewer than 4 goals once.  Like last year.

- Fleury has played well enough to reduce the urgency of needing another goalie because of him melting down.  But Zatkoff is not a legitimate backup option once things get serious.  On the Islanders' third goal, he was in the third row of the upper deck.

- Three straight strong games from Brandon Sutter.  In the last three games, his number one linemate at 5-on-5 by ice time is Jussi Jokinen (with Gibbons).  Whatever chemistry Jokinen has with Malkin is less important than the possibility of Jokinen improving the play of Sutter.  There is no reason for Jokinen to be on one of the top two lines even if he's technically good enough to be there.  Jokinen can elevate Sutter's game.  Malkin and/or Crosby can elevate Beau Bennett's game.  Brandon Sutter can't.

- Back to the Caps for a second because this is fun for me.  Their top two defensemen against the Pens were John Carlson and Karl Alzner.  At best, they're each #2 defensemen, but on a really good team, that would be a strong second pairing.  The other 4 defensemen were Oleksy, Schmidt, Strachan, Urbom.  That's awful, and it's not like reinforcements are on the way.  Mike Green makes the PP better, but that's it.  Their other options are Erskine, Hillen, and Orlov.  Oof.  If it's fair to raise questions to Shero about his top-heavy roster construction (and it is), George McPhee should be put on trial for that defense.  But hey, at least they are paying $9 million combined to Martin Erat and Brooks Laich, who have a combined 11 points in 46 games this season.

1 comment:

  1. Great points and I totally agree about keeping Jokinen with Sutter. Sutter may not be scoring, and he may be flubbing scoring chances in the slot, alone, but I really think those goals will come. On the bright side, he has more goals and points than Jordan Staal (4/5 vs 3/4).

    Also, regarding Zatkoff, on the second goal allowed to Colin McDonald (Fire Ray Shero), he basically drifted past the near post giving McDonald almost half the far side of the net. It was similar to the goal Holtby gave up to Bennett except Zatkoff was significantly more out of position.