The Pens eliminated the Ottawa Senators Friday night in game five by a score of six to two. Game five was a pretty accurate representation of the Pens dominance throughout the series. In this post I will analyze what the Pens did right, and for the first time I won’t have to write about anything the Pens did wrong. Sure there are small things you could pick at, but overall there weren’t any negatives of last night’s game; and the series for that matter.
For the eighth time in eleven playoff games, the Pens scored at least four goals. The dominance of the Pens offense has been on display throughout the playoffs, but especially through the last two games, scoring seven and six goals respectively. The Pens defense has also stepped up in this series. Not only have the defensemen been sharper, but forwards have contributed greatly to defensive efforts. Here are some ways different players through the lineup contributed to offense and defense.
Neal: You can’t talk about the Pens offense from last night without starting with James Neal. Prior to game four, NBC interviewed James about his lack of production. Neal said that he just has to keep having fun and the goals will come. And they did. Neal exploded for five goals in his last two games, including a hat trick in game five. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Neal play, it’s that once he scores one goal he goes on a goal scoring rampage. Hopefully this will carry into the next round, and I think it will. As for last night, Neal scored three goals in three different ways, displaying his range of shots. It was nice to see him score in different ways, because most of his goals come off wrist shots from the circle. On the first goal, Neal showed grit by going to the net and showing more desire to score than the Sens did to play defense. Also, shout out to Tanger for making a nice play on the goal. Similar to Neal, he went to the net and it resulted in the puck being lose for Neal. On the second goal, it started with defense. While it was a bad play by Gonchar behind the net, Neal made a great play to knock the puck down and have it stay on his stick. The more times I watch it, the more impressed I am. After stealing the puck he was patient. He could have tried to force the puck in, but instead waited and made the smart play. The third goal showed that Sid might have some competition for captain toe-drag. The fact that James made the play against Karlsson made the goal even sweeter. Neal finished the game with seven shots on goal and an assist on Geno’s goal, and the assist and Malkin goal came about by a great defensive play in the neutral zone by James. What’s perhaps Neal’s most impressive stat of the night? That he did all that in just 12:42 of ice time. The only skaters that had less ice time were Morrow and Iginla. In conclusion, it was Neal’s best game of the playoffs and I expect him to carry his goal scoring touch into the next round.
Geno: When we talk about Neal, it is only fitting that we follow it up by talking about Geno. Geno had an assist on Neal’s first goal, and scored off an assist from Neal with 29 seconds left in the second period to make the score 4-1. It seems that Lazy and G are back to their 2011-2012 form and that’s a great thing for Pens fans. While Geno was an offensive threat the entire night, I was also very impressed with his defense. In my past several posts, going back to the series against the Islanders, I’ve wrote about the large amount of turnovers at the blue line Geno has had. I’ve also talked about his lazy backcheck at times. However, Geno played his most complete game of the playoffs last night, with a goal, an assist, and a great defensive play to lead to Neal’s second goal. Like Neal, once Geno starts scoring it’s hard to stop him. They’re both finding each other on the ice and that’s a scary thing for whoever has to play the Pens in the next round. To wrap up, enjoy this quote from G after the game. “I like James Neal. He’s my favorite player on the team.”
Letang: Despite being the number one star of game four with four assists, Letang was heavily criticized, at some times uncalled for, by Pens fans. While Kris was somewhat bipolar in game four, he responded well in game five with a goal and two assists, not to mention several strong defensive plays and the numerous times he started the breakout. On Neal’s first goal he went to the net and knocked the puck into a position for Neal to get to it. The third goal of the game was a stellar move by Letang. I think most defensemen would have looked for someone to pass to in that situation. Letang made a great play, and was rewarded with the game winning goal.
Vokoun: I’ve never thought there was a question about who the starting goalie should be ever since we put Vokoun in in game five against the Isles, and Tomas’ game last night confirmed it. There’s absolutely no question as to who has the earned the start in goal in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final. Vokoun has been great throughout the entire playoffs, and last night is something that we’ve seemed to get accustomed to seeing. Vokoun was strong in net, and didn’t give up any week goals. He challenged shooters and controlled the puck well. There weren’t too many times when the puck was lying around the crease. A lot of credit goes to the defense as well, but I’ll discuss that later. Vokoun has been strong all series, but not flashy. He doesn’t have to be. He makes saves when we need him to, and at several occasions throughout the playoffs has robbed the opposition. In other words, exactly what you need from your goalie in the playoffs. A winning team doesn’t necessarily need highlight reel saves, but they need consistency; solid goaltending night in and night out and that’s what Vokoun has given the Pens. Congrats Tomas, you just earned your start for arguably the best team in the world in the conference final.
Cooke, Morrow, & Jokinen: I was going to write about all three players separately, but realized that I would basically be repeating myself. While all three of these players stood out to me in different ways, their success in last night’s game all comes from the same thing; working hard and playing gritty, and getting right in the opponent’s face. Cooke and Morrow made a great play that led to the opening goal of the game by Morrow. Cooke flat out outworked his opponent to get to the puck along the boards. He made a great pass to Eaton who put the puck perfectly on Morrow in front of the net for the goal. That wasn’t Cooke’s only good play of the night. Every time he was on the ice he was making something happen. He was quick to pucks and saw the ice extremely well. At one point last night someone tweeted that Matt Cooke owned the Senators more than Eugene Melnyk did at that point. But really, it was only fitting that Cooke had a great performance in the game that sent the Sens, and Karlsson, packing. However, Cooke’s great play in the first period doesn’t get as much attention if Brenden doesn’t go to the net. Morrow made a great play and went to the perfect spot to receive the shot pass from Eaton. He had a defender on him but powered his way to the net anyway. Players who do this are very underrated. The only other player on the Pens that could possibly be described as having a similar style is Chris Kunitz. To me, Morrow reminds me of Ryan Malone. He goes to the net and makes life miserable for the defense and goalie. Speaking of going to the net, I would like to give a shout out to Jokinen for the great screen on Letang’s goal. While Letang made a great individual move, that goal might not have happened if it weren’t for Jokinen. While he didn’t play up to his standards in the series against the Isles, resulting in him losing his spot in the lineup, he has played extremely well the past two games. He’s earned his spot in the conference finals.
Sid, Kunitz, and Duper: Actually, there’s not a whole lot to say about Sid from last night’s game. His line, while making good behind-the-scenes plays, was relatively quiet. Sid finished the night with a single assist, but his most impressive stat is his faceoff percentage. He won 21 of 31 draws. A part of me actually wants to feel bad for Kyle Turris. Dupuis played great on the penalty kill which killed all four of Ottawa’s power plays, and Kunitz made some impressive defensive plays. The first line had a good night but was not dominant. The reason? They didn’t have to be. Face it, the second line stole the show last night.
Defense: This was the best games the Pens have played yet defensively. It was Eaton and Niskanen’s best game of the playoffs, and it was also important for their confidence. Eaton and Nisky haven’t played up to their potential yet in the playoffs, but hopefully last night’s strong performance will be the norm from here on out. Eaton made a great play on the first goal of the game and came up huge with a shot block later that period. Niskanen was strong all around and didn’t turn the puck over, something he’s been doing throughout the playoffs. Orpik also had a strong night. When watching highlights of the game, NHL Network has been showing the chance by Alfredsson that missed wide. (I mean, they only scored two goals so they have to show something I guess.) The more times I watch it, the more I realize it wasn’t just Alfredsson missing wide, but Orpik making a great defensive play. He had Alfredsson’s stick tied up and there was almost no way Alfredsson could have gotten the puck in the net. While highlights keep showing this “great chance” there really wasn’t a way that puck was ever going in the net with the play by Orpik. The defense as a whole did some really impressive things. For one, they cleared the crease extremely well. There weren’t many scrambles in front of the net. This will be important against Boston. The Bruins are bigger and have a larger net front presence than the Sens. The Pens will need to continue to clear the crease like last night if they want to keep some of the big bodies of the Boston Bruins off the board. Clearing the crease can also be attributed to Tomas Vokoun. He cleared the puck from the crease himself on multiple occasions. The Pens also boxed out very well. The majority of the Senators’ 31 shots were from the blue line, and Vokoun’s not going to let many shots like that go in. None of them went in last night. The only goals were in front of the net.
What was my favorite stat of the game? THERE WERE ZERO TURNOVERS IN THE FIRST PERIOD!!!
Bottom line: offense was great, defense was great, Vokoun is amazing, Lazy and G will destroy anyone that stands in the way of their bromance, Matt Cooke is better than you, and the Sens are done.
In the words of Paul MacLean: “I hope they don’t bill us for the clinic.”