Semifinals Game 4: Pens 7 Sens 3
Pens Lead Series 3-1
Neal (2), unassisted
Kunitz (4) from Dupuis, Letang
Iginla (3) from Letang, Neal
Neal (3) (PP) from Crosby, Letang
Dupuis (7) (SH) from Cooke
Crosby (7) from Kennedy
Iginla (4) (PP) from Jokinen, Letang
| TPN Recap |
Shots: Neal (9)
Missed Shots: Martin & Neal (3)
Blocked Shots: Orpik (4)
Hits: Kennedy (4)
Giveaways: Kunitz & Letang (2)
Ice Time: Orpik (23:42) … Bennett (10:54)
Faceoffs: Crosby (13/20) … Iginla (1/5)
It's impressive when a guy can earn a takeaway by sticklifting the goalie. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)
James Neal: It was the playoff game we were all waiting for from James Neal. Two days off brought life back to his game as he led the team with 9 shots (12 attempted) and scored 2 goals. He also drew an interference penalty, added an assist, and was noticeable in a good way in all 3 zones. Neal looked like he was in last season’s form with how quickly he was releasing shots. All of his production came in just 18 shifts for 15:31 of ice time, easily making him the most productive player on the team per shift. Best of all, his skating stride looked normal again so there’s a good chance he will keep up the strong play.
Sidney Crosby: Though the Penguins started off slow as a team, Crosby came out like he was shot out of a canon. He showed by far the most energy in the first period, even stealing a puck from Craig Anderson behind the net, and he was rewarded later in the game with a goal and a powerplay assist. Crosby went 13/20 in faceoffs, led the forwards with 18:03 of ice time, and also recorded 6 shots. It was a much better performance after a sloppy Game 3. Though he wasn’t credited for any takeaways, I had him marked down for 2 steals and 3 pass interceptions/deflections.
Tyler Kennedy: TK continues to demonstrate incredible playoff form after his disappointing season. He led the team with 4 hits and was tenacious on the backcheck in the defensive zone. He only recorded one point, an assist on Crosby’s goal, but it was impressive as he backchecked and stole the puck in the neutral zone before dishing it off to Crosby. Kennedy is doing all of the right things to keep himself in the lineup right now.
Paul Martin: Paul Martin continues to play unassuming perfect defense in a way that the average fan probably won’t notice. Aside from a slashing penalty that led to a meaningless powerplay goal for Ottawa late in the game, Martin was just about perfect in the defensive zone. He has mastered how to handle Ottawa’s forwards in one-on-one situations. Whether it’s stepping up on them at the blue line, keeping them to the perimeter in the defensive zone, or poke checking the puck off of their sticks, Martin is doing everything perfectly to neutralize his assignments. Pittsburgh hasn’t seen an individual defender like this in the playoffs in a long time. Also, don’t underestimate his presence on the powerplay in the third period – puck possession improved immediately.
The second line says kindly go eff yourself. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Jarome Iginla: Iginla joined Neal in telling everyone to shut it about the second line and any “chemistry” issues they may have. Iggy recorded 2 goals on 4 shots in just 13:56 of play and had several other chances, but wasn’t at his best with puck handling at times. He stepped in for a few faceoffs as well. Even though he was a dismal 1 for 5, he still won a faceoff battle at the dot that led to Neal’s first goal of the game. As some may question why he doesn’t receive more powerplay time or ice time in general, it’s worth considering whether Iginla is more productive with less ice time at this stage in his career. He looked far more energetic in Game 4 than previous games.
Others: Also worthy of praise – Pascal Dupuis (goal and assist in 18:03 of ice time), Brooks Orpik (good one-on-one defense, drew a penalty), Matt Cooke (shorthanded assist, strong PK work, drew a penalty)
Likely quote: "Sorry for making your life awful, but I still got 4 points." (Jana Chytilova/The Canadian press)
Kris Letang: Letang played a horrible first period, had a hand in all 3 goals against, and somehow recorded 4 assists to confuse just about everyone on his evaluation. Teaser – his game changed completely when his pairing changed. Letang’s final stat line was 4 assists, 1 shot, 1 blocked shot, and 2 giveaways in 21:27 of ice time. His ice time was eclipsed by both Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, which tells you how the coaching staff felt about Letang’s play throughout the game. He continually gets caught up in what he feels should be penalties and he made some mistakes in the defensive zone, but you have to give him credit for what he did to spark offense as well. When he’s focused, Letang is one of the best defensemen in the league. The question is – can Letang stay focused for 60 minutes.
Jussi Jokinen: Jokinen had a very tentative return to the lineup and looked serviceable, but not great overall. He finished with 1 assist, 2 shots, a slashing penalty, a giveaway, and a 6/10 faceoff mark in 12:11 of ice time. He appeared to shy away from physical contact more than usual and didn’t seem to have that extra gear in him to win puck battles or puck races. Though he claimed he was healthy, he had the look of a player either coming off of an injury or afraid to make a mistake, maybe both. Crosby double-shifted into his center spot a few times, so it will be interesting to see how much Jokinen is used moving forward.
Niskanen was so out of position, he didn't even get a chance to look bad. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Matt Niskanen: Niskanen might be playing some of his worst hockey in a Penguins jersey during the 2013 playoffs. He had no discernible offensive stats, only 1 blocked shot, and took a tripping penalty. While it’s not an issue that he isn’t adding much to the offense, part of the problem is his puck possession. He passed the puck directly out of the offensive zone twice to kill any pressure the Penguins had. Meanwhile, on defense, he was gliding and completely out of position on the second goal against. He has looked uncomfortable in general in the defensive zone, though that did improve once the pairings changed. Finally, his tripping penalty was a borderline slewfoot and just a dangerous play heading into the boards. Niskanen has had many forgettable games in this playoff year and Game 4 can be added to that list.
Lineup: The two big lineup changes going into Game 4 were Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen in for Tanner Glass and Brenden Morrow (injured). Tyler Kennedy was moved up to the third line with Cooke and Kennedy while Bennett and Jokinen joined the 4th line with Adams. The moves were visibly positive as Bennett played well overall, especially in the defensive zone where he is underrated. He had a timely stick lift on the crease to prevent a scoring chance and also helped out on a couple of clears. Offensively, he plowed the way for Crosby to undress Phillips and have an open lane to the net. Kennedy and Jokinen are discussed above, and both certainly played above any level Tanner Glass has shown. Glass may be valuable to this team in the next round though, so don’t turn on him quite yet (I know, it’s already too late).
Injuries: Chris Kunitz left midway through the 2nd period with an unknown injury. He came back in the 3rd period, but left again once the Penguins had a comfortable margin. Based solely on those actions, one would guess Kunitz has a slight injury but could play if necessary. That being said, it probably wouldn’t hurt to sit him in Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead. As for Brenden Morrow, he left practice early on Tuesday and didn’t skate on Wednesday. It sounds like he pulled a muscle, but I have no definitive information on that. Same advice with Glass and Kunitz on Morrow, there’s a strong chance he will be more valuable next round and the team might as well rest him with a 3-1 series lead and plenty of depth to replace him.
Moving Eaton to Letang's pairing helped on both offense and defense. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)
Adjustments: If you’re a Bylsma hater, here is one time you have to give him credit for lineup adjustments as the game went on (or just admit you’ll hate him no matter what). Letang and Niskanen were awful in the first period, so the 2nd period started off with new (old) pairings of Letang/Eaton and Niskanen/Murray. Both Letang and Niskanen improved greatly after the switch and the change in Letang’s game is visible on the score sheet as well. Bylsma also made another adjustment going into the 3rd period. The first powerplay had Letang and Martin on the point with Malkin, Crosby, and Neal as the forwards (and this was before Kunitz left again). It resulted in a powerplay goal on their first shift together. As much as we joke about how there’s so much talent on this team that it’s difficult to determine what to do with it; that actually does hold true. It’s hard to not use 4 forwards when the team has this much talent, but give the coaches credit for resisting the urge and going with a safer setup that worked out well.
Goalie Situation: No, there still isn’t a goalie situation. Vokoun played pretty well in stopping 30 of 33 shots. The first and third goals against were just tough ones to stop (a breakaway and a deflection). The second goal is partially on him as he gave up a really bad rebound when he looked unsure of how to play the shot. One bad goal in a 7-3 win isn’t cause for concern though. The Vokoun train continues along until he falters in a loss. One thing to watch for though – the defense is starting to get a little lackadaisical in front of Vokoun like they were in front of Fleury. When it comes down to it, it may be the defense that determines if and when Fleury gets the job back based on how well they opt to play.
Game 5: Paul MacLean had little to say after Game 4 in a 22 second press conference stating that Ottawa was coming to Pittsburgh and coming to play. Captain Daniel Alfredsson had a different story to tell, saying the Sens probably wouldn’t be able to make a comeback against Pittsburgh because of their depth. Gamesmanship? Head games? What’s going on exactly? Regardless of what anyone says, Ottawa is coming to Pittsburgh to stay alive and no one wants to play their last hockey game of the year. Bylsma is oddly 0-6 in elimination games in Pittsburgh, but that trend can’t last forever, right? I would expect Anderson to be a stud in net as he tries to steal a 2nd game, but I’m not sure it will be enough against a team that just scored 7 without Malkin recording a point.
Series Outlook: The Penguins are clearly in the driver’s seat with a 3-1 series lead and stole a road game in the process. Though we have seen this team blow a 3-1 series lead before (2011 vs Tampa Bay), it’s not going to happen this year. There’s too much depth and talent, and Bylsma is making the right moves to utilize guys when he needs to. If Ottawa does win Game 5, Bylsma has a strong history of winning the next game. I won’t stop you from looking ahead at this point.
1st Goal Against (Michalek): – for
Letang – out of position on the far boards instead of the middle of the ice so he has no chance at catching up to Michalek as he goes for a breakaway
Malkin – Acts just a bit slow in realizing Michalek is about to go for a breakaway and Malkin can’t transition for it or keep up
1st Goal For (Neal): + for
Iginla – takes the faceoff and pushes Smith back at the faceoff dot, forcing Smith into a pass directly to Neal
Neal – gets control of the puck and fires a wrist shot past Anderson
2nd Goal Against (Turris): – for
Vokoun – can’t handle a soft shot and gives up an awkward rebound
Letang – unable to clear the rebound/win the puck battle in front of Vokoun, then falls on/over Vokoun
Niskanen – is slow coming out of the corner and nowhere near in position to cover Turris
Crosby – peels off of covering Turris assuming the puck will come out of the zone / someone will cover Turris and neither happens
2nd Goal For (Kunitz): + for
Letang – blocks a shot and chips the puck towards Dupuis
Dupuis – wins a puck battle in his feet and passes the puck up to Kunitz all alone at the blue line
Kunitz – takes the puck in on a breakaway and scores
3rd Goal For (Iginla): + for
Malkin – moves the puck out of the defensive zone and passes it across to Neal in the neutral zone
Neal – swats at the puck to chip it to Letang over the blue line on the right side
Letang – takes a low shot that bounces off of Anderson’s pads and stays in the crease
Iginla – crashes the crease and puts the rebound into the net
4th Goal For (Neal): + for
Martin – carries the puck deep in the zone and throws it back to Neal at the point
Letang – gets the puck from Neal, passes to Crosby on the right boards, gets the puck from Malkin and fakes a shot before passing to Crosby
Crosby – gets the puck from Letang and passes down to Malkin on the goal line, takes a one-timer that misses the net and bounces to Neal
Malkin – passes the puck back up to Letang
Neal – gets the puck from Martin and passes it to Letang, then skates towards the net and gets the puck off of the backboards from Crosby’s shot, finally scores on an almost empty net as Anderson can’t get across in time
5th Goal For (Dupuis): + for
Cooke – blocks a shot in the defensive zone, chases the pass from Dupuis and skates the puck behind the net before backhanding a pass to Dupuis on the crease
Dupuis – corrals the puck that Cooke blocks and flips it ahead so Cooke can catch up to it, then goes straight to the net and outmuscles Gonchar to tap the puck into the net
6th Goal For (Crosby): + for
Kennedy – steals the puck in the neutral zone and gets it to Crosby
Bennett – crashes through the defensive zone, pulling the 2nd defender away from the net
Crosby – dekes Phillips down to his knees and skates in front of Anderson by himself, backhanding a shot past him
7th Goal For (Iginla): + for
Jokinen – wins the faceoff back to Letang and goes to open space along the boards, gets the puck back from Letang and feeds Iginla in the high slot
Letang – gets the puck off the faceoff and passes it down to Jokinen on the boards
Iginla – one-times the puck from the high slot past Lehner
3rd Goal Against (Alfredsson): – for
Martin – in the box for a slashing penalty
Letang – tries to clear the puck up the middle from behind the goal line and it doesn’t make it out of the zone
Jokinen – gets caught too deep in the zone and can’t make it out to Karlsson on the point
Eaton – covers empty space in front of Vokoun instead of sliding to Alfredsson on the right side, proceeds to screen Vokoun
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