Friday, January 31, 2014

Pens beat Kings, 4-1; Might Jeff Zatkoff be good?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

If Evgeni Malkin's goal 57 seconds into the game last night didn't immediately take your mind back to the first few minutes of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston last year, then you are a lot more mentally healthy than we are.  The Pens were flying at the beginning of that game but failed to bury one.  The Bruins got a goal and started slowly suffocating the Pens ... Crosby took two penalties, Malkin got into a fight and Matt Cooke got ejected for boarding.  The Pens doubled down on frustration in Game 2 (got blown out 6-1) and by the time they regained their composure and got to double OT in Game 3, it was too late.

Would things have been different if the Pens bury one in the opening minutes?  Paul Steigerwald can say some pretty bizarre things (last night he suggested that the Pens sat Kris Letang so that Bob Bortuzzo could play in front of Mom Bortuzzo), but he was right about one thing -- the importance of the first goal against teams like Boston and L.A.  If you don't score early, they can weather the storm with their goaltending and then slowly suck the life out of you.  It's especially effective against the Pens, who too easily allow frustration to drag them into very dark places.

This isn't to say that the Pens deserved a different fate last year.  Quite the opposite. The fact that the Pens couldn't and didn't bury one early against Boston simply means they weren't good enough.  The fact that Boston went on to put the Pens in a choke hold just confirms it.  But if the Pens score early, could Game 1 have gone the way of the game last night, with the goal giving the Pens a boost, the opponent taking a penalty in an attempt to slow down a superior athlete, and the Pens seizing control with a deadly power play?  We'll never know, but we can assume.

More on the actual game last night, after the jump...

- We questioned Dan Bylsma's decision to start Jeff Zatkoff last night, but all's well that ends well.  Zatkoff stopped 30 of 31 shots and hasn't lost a game in regulation since October 25th.  Might he actually be good?  Forget his season save percentage of .909.  Excluding his first two starts, when he was clearly overwhelmed, his save percentage this season is .926, which is excellent.  He had a couple great saves last night, and even though he moves like molasses at times, it is an oddly comforting contrast to Fleury, who gets in trouble because he moves too quickly (or shoots pucks in with his own ass).  There have been stranger success stories than a guy like Jeff Zatkoff commandeering the ship and captaining the Pens to a Stanley Cup.  (But not much stranger).

- Tanner Glass scored for the second straight game last night.  It is only the second time in his career that he's scored in consecutive games, which is shocking BECAUSE WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT TANNER GLASS HAD SCORED IN CONSECUTIVE GAMES BEFORE?!?!  It's a very welcome contribution from a guy who hasn't contributed offensively since he's been here.  We're not holding our breath that he's turned a corner (he was out-Corsi'd 19-7 at 5-on-5 last night), but goals from the 3rd and 4th lines are what the Pens need.  If it comes from Tanner Glass and not some guy brought in at the trade deadline, all the better.

- So far, the rotation at Sid's RW leaves a lot to be desired. Sid doesn't need a big (expensive) upgrade because he and Kunitz can provide enough scoring, but the Glass, Gibbons rotation at RW is absolutely going to drag down the 5-on-5 productivity of that line, perhaps significantly.  We like Gibbons, but it's unrealistic to expect him to perform well in the playoffs. He's tiny and too easily knocked off the puck.  We saw it with Hossa and Dupuis, and we see it now with how James Neal compliments Evgeni Malkin: Crosby and Malkin are most effective when they have wingers who can "backcheck" while still in the offensive zone. That is, wingers who are fast enough and strong enough to prevent the other team from exiting the zone even when the other team has clear possession of the puck.  Puck hounds, you could say.  Last night, there were many times where as soon as the Kings had the puck on their blades behind their own net, it was coming directly out of the zone.  Sid doesn't need a finisher like Mike Cammalleri.  He needs a guy to prevent that puck from getting out cleanly.  A guy like (sad face) Pascal Dupuis.

- Has anyone recovered yet from meeting Penny Kunitz?  We haven't.

Bottom line: that's a great win over an extremely difficult opponent.  The check engine light may be blinking, but the truck keeps plowing full speed ahead.  LGP.


  1. I was at this game (along with most of Pittsburgh, as it seemed) and had the following thoughts:

    1. Say what you will about Corsi, but I noticed Tanner Glass. The goal aside (and it was such a sick shot the game kept playing for a moment because neither the refs nor the teams apparently had figured out that it went in), he was crashing boards, hitting guys, and generally drawing the Kings off their game. I know he's terrible, but credit where it's due.

    2. Megna and Gibbons might also suck but man, they play with (non-finishing and absolutely skill-less) energy. Hope they're enjoying their cup of coffee.

    3. At one point, I asked my friend if Sutter was in the game. He said he didn't know. It was confirmed later on when Sutter took a penalty.

    4. Brooks Orpik had one fantastic backcheck but other than that was absolutely terrible.

    5. Geno and Jussi were so much better than everyone else on the ice last night. It was like watching college kids play against middle schoolers.

    6. Don't get TOO high on Zatkoff yet. The Pens D bailed his ass out with some fantastic blocking and puck diving, which saved him from probably half a dozen open net scoring chances when he was totally screened or had just fallen over and was slow to get up. Although he had a SICK save on a breakaway in the third period, that shot, like so many others last night, just went straight into his glove without the benefit of his having to move.

    Captain Pessimism will shutup now. Keep up the great work. LGP.

  2. All great observations. Glass has definitely been noticeable, and I commend him for his hitting. If you can't get the puck, you might as well smash the guy who has it. That's all you can hope for.

    Megan and Gibbons definitely don't suck. Gibbons has skill and speed, but when the playoffs come around, guys his size can get swallowed up. He could be a contributor ... it's just that Shero shouldn't count on that when assessing his options at the deadline. Megna is a nice player, too, but as we've said before, we could do without the Y in his first name.

    I love the Orpik comment. It was a great backcheck, but defensemen shouldn't really need to be backchecking. The objective is to keep the puck in front of you. Both him and Scuderi have struggled this year. It's hard to justify having both of them signed beyond this season, so this could be the end of ol' Brooksie in a Pens uniform. If you want to throw out names where, if traded, everyone would initially be surprised but then would slowly be like, "yeah, i can see how this makes sense," isn't Orpik at the top of that list?

  3. I was at the game too. Going in questioning disco dan's decision to use JZ. I had heard cause he played with the KINGS AHL team or was drafted by them. That or mommies were in the stands. Anyhoo, the kings have a great 2 man goalie rotation (yes we saw both last night but to my shock can't score any goals (3 goals in their last 5 games, all of which came from Kopi). But JZ came thru big time.

    I enjoyed our first 7 shots as we scored on 3 of them. Not too shabby. The crowd was 50/50 which was very nice to see the Black n Gold support out west.

    Overall i'm quite proud of our boys being able to not let the kings back in the game, even without the tanger.

    Kings gave a nice welcome back to Scuderi as well. Hey, he did win a Cup for them too!


    1. Way to represent on the road. Must be nice getting to your seat and not having to spend 8 minutes arranging your two jackets, scarf, hat, and gloves.

  4. This is Anonymous #1 again. Re: Orpik, I mentioned that he looked lousy to my friend, who responded "don't we have Despres, Samuelsson, Pouliot, and Dumolin waiting in the wings? Are seriously none of them better than Orpik or Scuderi at this point?" Too bad, but so true.

    Question: what the hell happened to Beau Bennett? And if Kunitz got hurt and we trotted out a line of guys named Sidney, Beau, and Jayson, and paired them with defensemen named Kris and Brooks, would this singlehandedly bring on the Rapture?

    Final point: on one of our powerplays last night, we threw out five forwards and no defensemen. We scored approximately eleven powerplay goals last night. Win.

    1. Obviously this is not something I'm going to look up, but one has to wonder whether there has ever been a bigger chasm on a team when it comes to traditional vs. progressive first names.

      Group A:

      Group B:

      There's really no middle ground.

      The only ones that don't fit squarely into one category or another are Pascal, Jussi, Evgeni, Olli, and Marc-Andre, but they are not English-based names.