December 12th, Chicago.
The title of this article is “The Windy City Debacle” because that’s what last night’s game was, a debacle.
For the better part of sixty minute the Pittsburgh Penguins out possesed, shot, and played the Chicago Blackhawks. Yet the score line read Haks 6 Pens 3. This matchup has been on the hockey worlds radar since about 2008 when both teams declared themselves powerhouses. From 2008 to 2018 one of these two teams have played for a cup seven of the ten years. Unfortunately for all of us, these two teams have never squared off for the greatest trophy in all of sport.
However their regular season matchups have been memorable. Giving a glimpse into what could have been. Last night was no acception.
For the better part of the game the teams traded goals, as the Penguins overcame adversity to tie the game twice. In the process awakening the snake bit Bryan Rust for a hat trick. Eventually tho a defensive lapse would find the Penguins behind late in the third and forced to pull the goalie. The Hawks would bury two empty netters to seal the deal.
There was a lot of good to take aways for the Penguins game. They unleashed holly hell on Corey Crawford. 43 shots were rocketed on target, Rust leading the charge with 8 shots. 18 of those coming from inside the house, and another 10 coming from high percentage angles. The Penguins were reigning havoc in the offensive zone.
Shot Chart from Hockey Reference
Derick Brassard has finally come to life for the Penguins. He is starting to show shades of the player that gave the Penguins problems in a Rangers sweater for years. He played 20 minutes flanking Crosby and was aggressive on the forecheck while registering two shots. The other thing his presence does on that line is allow Sidney Crosby to flat out ignore all faceoff rules. Basically Sid can cheat every draw because if he loses Brassard, a good faceoff man in his own right can come in. This makes this line incredibly dangerous when starting from the offensive zone.
Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin were re-untied, igniting that line. The trio of Kessel, Malkin, and Pearson had 11 of the Penguins 46 shots. That type of shot production from three lethal scorers will show up on the score sheet most nights. In fact this game could have been six to six had it not been for Crawford being spectacular all night long.
The defense played really well. Generating collectively 13 shots, 7 of which came off the stick of Kris Letang. I know that feels weird to say they played well when the scoreboard reads 6 for the opponent but dig a little deeper. The shot chart for the blackhawks tells the true story. Only 6 of the 29 shots came from inside the house. 10 of the 29 shots were from high percentage angles. So the Penguins only gave up 16 shots that were dangerous. Where are the Hawks gave up 28.
Shot Chart from Hockey Reference
So where did it all go wrong? Unfortunately there is one position on the ice where only one player can play at a time. That position is currently being maintained by a man who is just not up to the task.
In a game where your team scores three goals, has over 40 shots, and only lets up 29 shots against, you must shut the door. Those team numbers are too good to lose to a team that was dead last in the entire league. In the NHL you have to win those games no excuse, you can’t blame poor team defending, you can’t say that the four goals were all just really good shots. You have to stop the puck. You have to win the game.
Casey DeSmith, is a lot of things but a competent starting NHL is not one of them. There are parts of DeSmith’s game that to an untrained eye are fun to watch. He is fast, he has a flashy glove, and he makes some spectacular diving saves.
In fact the sequence leading up to the first goal for the Hawks was one of those sequences. DeSmith is darting around his crease going post to post diving back and forth chasing the puck like a cat chases a mouse. Until he ran out of steam made a panic save that threw him so far out of position that the Hawks had a yawning net to shoot at.
This is an A-Typical goal against for DeSmith. His size forces him to play this gittery style of goaltending. He is unable to make a routine second or third save because he has to dramatically change his position to be able to make the second save. Unlike his counterpart last night in Crawford who stands at 6’2, and makes rebounds seem less threatening then DeSmith. Every puck that comes off DeSmith becomes a scoring opportunity. Yet Crawford is able to absorb up to three shots before getting out of position and the being forced to make an athletic save. DeSmith on the other hand is forced to make an athletic save on the first re-bound generally leaving him so far out of position on the third chance that it’s an open net.
The same scenario happens on the second goal against. Where Toews and Seabrook are cycling the puck in the offensive zone. Again DeSmith is darting around the crease so by the time the puck settles at the point for Seabrook he is gassed and watches Seabrook blow a saveable shot by him.
The third and fourth goals may not have been DeSmiths fault, but as a team when your constantly playing catch up you need your goalie to make a save. DeSmith couldn’t do that in fact most nights he can’t do that. How many Penguins games have we witnessed where the Penguins jump out to an early lead just to have a the game tied within minutes of the goal.
I understand that people like DeSmith, but at the end of the day we better hope this time off has allowed Matt Murray to completely heal his nagging injury because if not. This team is a bubble playoff team and certainly not a cup contender.