The Jets played a thrilling afternoon game against the high-scoring Penguins, as both teams took advantage of the depth players on the other side to work the twine.
It was a mostly scrambled affair, with the Penguins finding space in the neutral zone too often, leading to a collpase and chasing model of defence for the good guys, and the Jets bodying the opposition away from the puck often to create in-zone pressure. The two modes of offence – quick strike versus continuous pressure was reflected in the numbers. The Jets led the corsi battle, and I won’t be surprised if they led the chances battle as well. It was a back and forth game, but in the 31 minutes when the score was within 1 goal, the Jets dominated with 37 shot attempts for and 26 against. That’s almost 60%.
That doesn’t mean they controlled the whole game. A lucky bounce to Trouba’s stick as he swept past the front of the net gave them an early goal. Then with four seconds left in the first period, Kane delivered a back hand pass onto Scheifele’s tape, but a contested shot led to a lucky bouncer to give the Jets a 2-0 lead into the second.
I said before the game that the Jets come up with surprises in the first, and despite a long stretch from 4:29 to 16:15 without a shot on goal, the 2-0 score represented a surprise. The period included a 90 second period where the Penguins generated 6 shots (7 attempts) against two Jets lines before Byfgulien took a penalty for pushing Malkin face first into the boards after he’d already been tripped going past the net. But Montoya kept the door closed during the extended breakdown, something we don’t see often with the Jets.
The period also included a Crosby breakaway and subsequent penalty shot. Montoya stopped both.
That surprise lead ended when the Penguins made adjustments between periods. (Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.) They came out with three straight goals – Malkin, Neal on the powerplay while Wheeler was in the box for slashing Malkin, and Neal again. The Jets to that point had played Malkin with a scouting report so old it was featured in the Capitals/Penguins 24/7 – if you attack Malkin, he’ll retaliate. Yeah, he doesn’t do that any more and is far removed from his 100PIMs ‘Season of Anger.’ But maybe the Jets don’t have pro-scouts (I almost wish it was true, because it would explain and lot and be easy to solve).
Thankfully for the Jets, the Brooks Orpik show began. Wheeler caught up to Orpik circling behind the net, and checked him into a turnover to Bryan Little. Little’s attempted pass bounced in the air and Orpik took a leaning, casual swat before Wheeler banged it home. Later in the period, Orpik spun away from pressure on the boards only to fall and deliver a pass to space for Kane’s breakaway marker.
In between those two goals, Thorburn and Stuart got on the ice at the same time against Malkin. Malkin set up on the left side of the zone (where those two defensive geniuses play) and eventually delivered a goal to Jussi Jokinen’s stick.
Tied 4-4 with 6 goals in the second, the period wasn’t done. On a scramble play with just over 20 seconds left in the period, Scheifele tracked down Craig Adams at the top of the Penguins zone and muscled him off the puck. A scramble play from a Frolik pass went to Evander Kane at the side of the net, and he shelfed it on the backhand from an improbable angle.
The Jets exited period two with a lead as well. And to that point, the pairing of Stuart and Byfuglien that was getting so much ice was just awful and not yet meme worthy.
But the third period opened with 10 straight shots (12 attempts) by the Penguins in 8-1/2 minutes before Malkin potted his second of the game to tie it. The Jets woke up at that point, but it was too late. A lost faceoff 4 minutes later included both Olli Jokinen and Mark Scheifele on the ice, and neither of them took the winger role to challenge the point. Evander Kane tried to cover both men, but a cross-blue line pass gave Niskanen a wide open shot with Scheifele in the shooting lane and Jokinen in no man’s land. It was the winner, and the camera immediately went to Byfuglien who was on his knees when the goal went in. I’m not sure why not covering Matt Niskanen is his fault, but then that’s why they don’t pay me to talk at the picture show.
The shots ended up in favour of the Penguins (39-34) thanks a dominating third period, but a seven goal second when the Jets really lost the game. They squandered two lucky goals in the first 20 minutes, and lost the rest of the game 6-3. It’s the Penguins, granted, but the team needs to be able to close out 40 minutes of a hockey game with fewer than 6 goals against.
As mentioned at the top, this was another classic split for the Jets. The LLW line was terrific, and used their size and speed to hold the puck in the good end of the rink. They had tremendous corsi numbers at even strength (Wheeler was 21 for, 9 against), and though they were out-scored, they were positive performers.
As well, the second line delivered as much offence as anyone can ask. Kane had two goals, Scheifele another. Frolik was a corsi threat (16 for, 10 against). But the group also gave up as much as they created by way of goals.
Trouba and Pardy were the only defenders not on for a goal against. That’s kind of ridiculous, but reflects the fact that the Penguins are only two lines deep, and the Jets played those two more carefully than the others. Trouba had less than 16 minutes at even despite his goal, and Pardy only 12. Pardy also made a blunderous Error (capital E) on a giveaway at the opposing blue line with everyone facing the wrong way. So I’m noting this as a good-er than it could have been group.
Al Montoya took some heat, including the word ‘regression’ on twitter, but the fact is that the Jets were out-manned against the Penguins and just don’t have the structure to manage the Pittsburgh attack. He was beaten for six goals, and apart from the second Neal goal (a distance wrister), I’m not sure any of them were his fault. He also stopped 31 shots, and several of them of the breath-holding variety. I liked his game and give or take a goal, I don’t think there’s a goaltender in the league who would have done better with the looks the Jets gave. Even that second Neal goal came after two giveaways by the Jets.
Bogosian had a bizarre game that was very high event. He was on for 3 goals for and just one against. That’s a huge positive in this game. But he was also on for 24 shot attempts for and 26 against. It was a firing range at both ends when he was on the ice, and the Jets are Never going to win games in those circumstances. Not with Montoya, and not with Pavelec.
It was a game where the divide in talent on the Jets was extremely clear. Scheifele was great in the offensive zone, but really struggled in his own zone and in transition. He had a number of turnovers trying to get past the blue line that cost the Jets. But he was only for 2 goals against, because he wasn’t the main problem.
The Jokinen line faded into the background in this game, but sadly it was the background of Penguin goal celebrations. Thorburn was once again the team’s worst corsi player at under 30%. Replacement level is considered 40%, meaning they could expect to get 40% from an AHL call up or waiver player. In fact, they got 43% from Eric O’Dell! But the whole line was in the basement – the third word numbers on the team. The unit was also on for two goals against (Thorburn only played 11 minutes!) at even strength, and Jokinen was on for the game winner as well while with Scheifele and Kane. Jokinen was also on for 2:37 of the powerplay, during which he lost a faceoff and never managed a shot attempt on net OR a pass for a shot attempt on net. I’m really glad Noel has opened this door again after last season’s single powerplay point performance in 105 minutes.
Mark Stuart was just pure terrible. He was on for five goals against (including the powerplay goal) and he controlled the blue line like a turnstile against a team that generates so much off the rush. In just 18:35 – less than a third of the game – Stuart was on for 80% of the goals. Plus, the Penguins used his side of the ice to re-start their offence all game. He’s just not an NHL player, and his limited success this season alongside Bogosian or Pardy came when they played third pairing matchups. Against Malkin and Crosby, he was beyond hopeless.
Byfuglien got the Byfuglien treatment after this game. He was also on for four (five including PK) goals against, and I’m sure I’ll be told I’m biased for not blasting him like I did Stuart. Hey – he’s in ‘The Bad’ section. But even his atrocious turnover on an attempted pass to Mark Scheifele was a three person failure. Scheifele split his feet to let the pass through, the pass was terrible and should have been on his stick, and then Mark Stuart charged in front of Montoya and screened him! You can watch Montoya try to stretch up to see over Stuart just as the Neal shot is released that gives Malkin the rebound. The first Malkin goal is on Buf, though, after a turnover just inside his own blue line,. Again, he had no passing options as the forwards stood still in check and I wonder if anyone told him he had a trailer coming, but he was too casual in a danger area. In general, Byfuglien had a poor game marked by too many turnovers against a very good offence. But he was on for 25 shot attempts for and just 17 against, and I still choose the player who has lapses over the one who gets buried. I just wish the team would furnish him a partner already, and one that talks on the ice.
It was a massively entertaining game that exposed both teams for their lack of depth. The Jets beat Crosby at evens (1 goal for Pens with Crosby, 3 goals against), but not on the shot counter and he still created a fair amount. And, as usual, shallow teams can only manage one player at a time. Malkin was on for four even strength goals (and the PP goal) and just two against. Kunitz, Scuderi, Engelland, Adams, Orpik, and Vitale were the other Pens beaten for more than a single goal in the game. Sadly, the Pens can go away knowing that the Jets scored at least four of their goals on lucky bounces (albeit generated by pressure), and the other on a mistake by Orpik for a Kane breakaway. They’re some healthy bodies and another Tyler Kennedy away from a cup contender. The Jets have to live knowing they managed 5 against the Pens’ starting goaltender and let it get away.