Yesterday, Dan Bylsma was asked about the subtle amount of touch Simon Despres put on a bank pass off the boards which sprung Jayson Megna loose for what eventually was the game-winning goal in Thursday's 5-1 trouncing of the Sharks. Bylsma pointed out Despres' gap play was the key to the sequence:
"The gap that he's playing that play is the really good part of the play. If he sagged back, he's not able to have the gap on that play to be able to step up and disrupt, create the turnover and put the puck into an area where we could take advantage. I think the really the play he's gotten better at. We've seen his gap and defend ability be very good in that area. We've seen him with a couple hits along the boards because of that. This was just another example of a good gap. "
-The play in question:
If you'll pardon an analogy to another sport, a gap in hockey is like a cushion between a defensive back and a wide receiver in football. Depending on the situation and the players in involved, you give a defenseman will keep a certain amount of space between him self and an on-rushing forward through the neutral zone. You'll probably give Alex Ovechkin more of a gap than you would Milan Lucic. If you play too tight on Alex Ovechkin, he'll probably blow right by you. With Lucic, since he's a large, plodding forechecker, you can afford to play closer too him.
-With a few exceptions, gap play isn't something most defenseman pick up early in their career. Olli Maatta seems t have a strong grasp on how to do it effectively, but he's the exception. For all his limitations, Deryk Engelland can maintain a strong gap. That's why he's in the NHL. Simon Despres has all the physical abilities to be an effective top pairing defenseman, but his gap play was lagging. A little time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has helped him develop that ability. As a result, we're seeing the most consistent and strong play Despres has ever offered in a Penguins jersey.
-It appears Pascal Dupuis will play tonight. He left Thursday's game due to a "lower-body" injury. We wonder if, given the Penguins jumping out to a four-goal lead in the second period, he was taken out of the game as a precaution.
-If Dupuis is out, we're not a fan of the idea of putting James Neal on Crosby's right wing beyond a shift or two. First, loading all of your offensive weapons on one line will make life easier for the Bruins in terms of matchups. Second, Neal just doesn't play at Crosby's pace.
-With Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup and Sidney Crosby expected to get a steady diet of Patrice Bergeron, Jussi Jokinen will need to step it up a bit. He'll get the better of matchups tonight against the Bruins who usually load up against Crosby even when Malkin is available.
-The Bruins will be without steady defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid tonight. Their absence makes the Bruins a little less tough around their own net. The Penguins need to take advantage of that.
-If you're going to make a recall against a tough team like the Bruins, Harry Zolnierczyk is the guy. He doesn't mind playing in games against opponents like this.
-If Dupuis were scratched, it would end a pretty lengthy consecutive games streak:
-The Wheeling Nailers figure to be plenty motivated tonight:
-The Penguins lines based on rushes reported by the team's Web site figure to be
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jayson Megna - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Joe Vitale - Brandon Sutter - Chris Conner
Chuck Kobasew - Zach Sill - Craig Adams
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Robert Bortuzzo and Harry Zolnierczyk.
-The Bruins' starters are Patrice Bergeron, Louis Eriksson, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton and Tuukka Rask.
-Their scratches are Johnny Boychuk, Jordan Caron and Adam McQuaid.
19:48: Trying to play a puck banked off the boards, Erikson is blasted to the ice by Orpik.
19:39: Chara tries to take out Dupuis at the Boston right point. He drops Dupuis but because he's so big, Chara so takes out Marchand inadvertently. A scrum develops Eriksson lumbers to the bench in discomfort and is attended to by an athletic trainer and eventually retreats to the dressing room. Chara is sent to the penalty box for cross checking Kunitz. Crosby, Neal, Kunitz, Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen take the ice.
19:29: from the center point, Letang chucks a wrister on net. Rask snags it.
18:59: Off a feed by Letang, Niskanen pops a one-timer from above the left circle. Rask kicks it out.
17:52: Engelland, on the J.V. power play, ices the puck from the neutral zone.
17:41: Sutter lifts a wrister from the right circle. Rask fights it off.
16:59: Chris Kelly drops Conner with a solid hit inside the Penguins' blue line.
16:31: Off a turnover by Lucic at his own blue line, Megna rips a wrister wide to the far side from the left circle.
16:38: Engelland upends Jarome Iginla with a nice hit along the left wing boards of the Penguins' zone.
15:17: Maatta chops a shot off a bank from the left wing wall. Rask slides to his right and eats it up.
15:03: Dennis Seidenberg is in deep on the left wing and is dropped on a shoulder check by Matt Niskanen.
14:31: Letang coats up the right wing and lifts a wrister wide of the cage.
14:17: A wrister by Sutter from the right of the cage is denied by Rask. Conner collects the rebound behidn the cage and deals to Sutter in the slot. Sutter's wrister eaten up by Rask. Thornton is sent off for roughing Orpik. Thornton tried to fight Orpik, presumably to avenge Orpik's hit on Thornton. Neal, Kunitz, Crosby, Niskanen and Letang take the ice.
13:27: The Penguins cash in on Thornton's aggression. Taking a pass in the left circle, Kunitz surveys the ice and flings a shot/pass to the blue paint. It hits off Chara's right knee and into the cage. A little bit of designed luck if you will. Crosby and Niskanen get assists. Penguins 1-0.
12:41: Lucic races up the right wing like a freight train and is stood up by Engelland. Lucic doesn't care for Engelland's presence and they drop the gloves. Both parties throw a few early punches but the fight devolves into a wrestling match. Both players head to the box. The Penguins will take that trade any day.
11:28: Collecting a puck behind his own net, Despres bodies Paille off the puck then chips it off the wall by Campbell to Megna. Neal picks it up and rushes through the neutral zone to the Boston zone. Megna ends up with the puck and rips a wrister from the right circle which is deflected out of play. A scoring chance created by a subtle, composed play by Despres behind his own net.
11:18: After Sill forces a turnover on the left wing wall, Kobasew lifts a wrister from the left circle
10:57: Sill rips a low wrister from the left circle. Rask eats it up. Miller and Sill exchange pleasantries aftewards.
10:48: Conner tries to tuck in a forehand wraparound attempt from the left of the cage
10:33: A wrister by Iginla from the slot os deflected by a poke check from Orpik.
10:18: Miller tees up a slapper from the right point which hits off the skate of Orpik.
9:47: The Bruins tie it up on their first shot of the game. Off a defensve zone turnover by Kunitz, Bergeron controls the puck on the left half wall, turns and distributes to an onrushing Reilly Smith, Smith rcansk a wobbly slapper by Fleury's right shoulder on the near side. He needs to make that save. Bergeron gets the only assist. Bruins 1, Penguins 1.
9:15: Crosby takes a shift with Kunitz and
8:54: Play is halted as Crosby and tripped up Bergeron. A scrum develops in the Penguins' zone. Thornton is going after Orpik once again. He ends up tripping up Orpik and punching him in the head multiple times before Orpik's body goes limp. Orpik appears to be unconscious. Athletic trainer rush out to Orpik. Thornton is sent to the dressing room. After several minutes, Orpik is taken off the ice on a stretcher. Thornton gets a match penalty. Neal was given a kneeing penalty for a hit on Marchand. We'll have four on four for two minutes.
6:54: The Neal minor expires. The Penguins will have a five-on-four power play for
6:47: Neal makes the Bruins pay. Niskanen controls the puck in his own left circle and snaps off a breakout pas to Neal at the Boston blue line on the left wing Neal gains the offensive zone and rips a wrister by Rask's blocker.
6:15: Root Sports broadcaster Bob Errey reports Loui Eriksson will not return to action.
5:16: Jokinen rips a wrister from the left circle which Rask fights off.
4:42: Kelly lifts a wrister from the right wing on net. Fleury punches it away.
4:16: Niskanen pops a one-timer from the left half wall wide on the near side.
4:04: Crosby and Neal each have chances in tight but can't beat Rask.
3:54: Play returns to five on five. The Penguins probably could have done more damage with that power play.
2:18: The Bruins get a power play as Conner clipped Miller in the face with a stick. That's two minute for high sticking. Sutter, Adams, Despres and Letang take the ice.
2:12: Adams blocks a one-timer by Ignla from the left point.
0:15: As the Conner minor is about to expire, Marchand takes a pass on the right wing and rips a wrister from the left wing.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Bruins 1.
-We'll address Thornton's actions at length in our postgame notes. Suffice it to say, it was barbaric.
-The Penguins have each of their goals thanks to Thornton's actions.
-Thornton's caveman antics aside, this has been a pretty physical game. There has been a ton of clean hitting.
-Simon Despres has had a ton of nice, little, subtle plays out of his own zone.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 13-5.
-The Penguins lead in attempted shots, 21-11.
-Neal leads the game with three shots.
-None of the Bruins has more than one shot.
-Letang leads the game with 9:54 of ice time.
-Seidenberg leads the Bruins with 8:35.
-The Bruins lead in faceoffs, 14-8 (64 percent).
-Bergeron is 8 for 11 (73 percent).
-Crosby is 5 for 13 (38 percent).
-Orpik leads the game with two blocked shots.
19:16: The Penguins get another power play. Marchand high sticked Kunitz and drew blood. That's a double minor. Crosby, Neal, Niskanen, Jokinen and Letang take the ice.
17:02: Seidenberger slam Letang with a heavy hit into the right wing corner of the Boston zone.
16:28: Jokinen has a chance to the right of the cage on a one-timer with Rask out of place. Seidenberg is Johnny On the Spot and makes a dazzling kick "save" to prevent a goal.
16:01: A slapper by Letang from above the right circle is partially blocked by Campbell's stick.
15:16: The Marchand minor is killed. The Penguins really wasted that chance.
11:08: Krejci drives up the left wing and is held up by Despres. It seems like a ticky-tack mak-up call. Either way, Despres will spend the next two minutes in the penalty box.
10:08: Lucic rips a wrister from the left circle. Fleury fights it off.
8:56: Hamilton snaps off a wrister from the left half wall. Fleury fights it off.
8:38: Iginla is called for holding Despres. Neal, Crosby, Niskanen, Letang and Kunitz take the ice.
8:10: Big save. After a neutral zone turnover by Niskanen, Paille races in on a mini breakaway. His forehand shot is smothered by Fluery's right pad. Kunitz is called for slashing Paille on a backcheck. We'll have four on four on four for 1:32.
6:45: Dupuis appears to hook Chara dow in the Penguins' slot. no call.
6:24: Crosby weaves his way up the right wing and deals a backhanded pass to Adams above the left circle. Adams booms a slapper over the cage.
6:10: Play returns to five on five.
6:01: Off a neutral zone steal, Kunitz races in on a breakaway. Rask attempts a forecheck and forces Kunits to shoot wide ot the left of the cage. Great play by Rask.
2:48: Niskanen chucks a wrister from the left half wall wide to the far side.
1:21: Niskanen pops a slapper from the right half wall. Rask fights it off. Vitale has a chance the rebound but can't fight it off.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Bruins 1.
-The Penguins have had a ton of power-play time in this game but little in the way of results. They only have a one-goal lead. They've wasted some prime opportunities to do some damage.
-It'll be interesting to see how the Penguins approach the third period with a one-goal lead and no Orpik. Do they go into a defensive shell?
-Neither goaltender was tested a great deal that period.
-The Penguins have a 19-13 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins have a 36-33 lead in attempted shots.
-Neal leads the game with four shots.
-Paille, Hamilton and defenseman Matt Bartkowski each lead the game with two blocked shots.
-Letang leads the game with 21:12 of ice time.
-Seidenberg leads the Bruins with 18:02.
-The Bruins have a 21-15 lead in faceoffs (58 percent).
-Bergeron is 11 for 16 (69 percent).
-Sutter is 5 for 10 (50 percent).
-Letang and Seidenberg each lead the game with four blocked shots.
-UPDATE: The Penguins announced Brooks Orpik has been taken to Massachusetts General Hospital where he is alert and conscious.
17:40: Megna is skating with Kobasew and Sill.
17:14: A one-timer by Seidenberg from the left point is wide on the near side.
16:17: The Bruins get another power play as Kunitz tripped up Hamilton on the right wing wall of the neutral zone. That's two minutes for Kunitz. Letang, Engelland, Adams and Sutter take the ice.
15:30: Taking a cross-ice pass, Smith leans down and fires s one-timer from the right circle. Fleury slides to his left and kicks it out.
14:58: Hamilton chops a slapper from the center point through traffic. Fleury fights it off but allows a rebound to the right of the crease. Smith has a wide open net to shootout but shoots wide on the near side. Argh.
14:35: Krug lifts a slapper from above the right circle. Fleury snags it.
14:21: Chara stroke s a slapper from the right point. Adams challenges and blocks it.
16:17: The Kunitz minor expires.
13:39: Off a turnover by the Bruins in their own zone, Kunitz rips a wrister from the right circle wide of the cage.
11:59: Kobasew gets a step on Iginla up the right wing and fligns a wrister on net from a bad angle. Rask kicks it out.
11:55: Niskanen drives a slapper from the right point through traffic. Rask fights it off.
11:05: Letang lifts a wrister from the right point. Rask punches it away with his blocker.
10:55: Neal dekes around Krug in the right circle and whips a low wrister on net. Rask kicks it out.
9:02: Kunitz whacks a slapper from the right wing wide of the cage.
8:33: Dupuis lifts a wrister from above the left circle. Rask gloves it.
6:48: Smith tries to lead a rush up into the Penguins' zone but loses the puck once Niskanen challenges.
5:56: Sutter whips a wrister from the right half wall.
5:46: Neal booms a slapper from the left half wall which hits a cluster of bodies in front.
3:13: Lucic barrels up the right wing with the puck. Despres pinches him against the boards and steals the puck. Despres then pushes the puck back up ice to the neutral zone. What a play by Despres.
2:51: A puck slides in on net and Fleury smothers. Kunitz gets in to the grill of Lucic and a scrum develops. Officials break it up.
2:25: After a turnover by Maatta in his own zone, Paille lifts a backhander from the slot off the left post. Maatta owes that post a beer.
2:17: Dupuis backhand chops a puck down ice and spring Crosby on a breakaway. Crosby attacks with a forehand shot but is denied by Rask. Crosby lifts the rebound wide of the cage.
1:45: The Bruins pull Rask for an extra attacker.
1:29: The Bruins tie it. Digging a puck out of the left wing corner, Lucic deals a pass to slot which hits off the stick of Fleury and deflects to Krejci. Krejci slings a wrister through a screen by by Fleury's blocker to tie the game late. Lucic and Iginla get assists. Fire Ray Shero. Bruins 2, Penguins 2.
1:02: Dupuis flings a backhander from the left wing. Rask eats it up. Chara and Dupuis mix it up behind the cage but nothing comes of it.
0:13: The Bruins come through in the clutch. Smith deals a pass from the left circle to Char ain the slot. Chara grips and rips a rising wrister by Fleury's glove hand. What a shot. What a sequence of events late. Smith and Marchand get assists. The Penguins call a timeout to get organized. Bruins 3-2.
0:00: End of game. Bruins 3, Penguins 2.
-First things first:
-Beyond that, Dan Bylsma did not provide an update on the nature of Orpik's injury.
-Fighting prevents injuries. It prevents cheap shots. That's what those who defend fighting tells us. Shawn Thornton was trying to prevent further injury and cheap shots right?
-What a load of fertilizer. In any other sport or walk of life short of mixed martial arts, you go to jail for an action like that. In this warped sport, you get lauded for "defending a teammate."
-Thornton's actions were assault. Period. Orpik blasted Loui Eriksson with a clean, legal hit at the start of the game and that set Thornton off on a search and destroy mission until he finally put Orpik out of action. He confirmed to reporters after the game he will have a disciplinary hearing. Anything short of 10 games will be a gross misjustice.
-There is nothing to dissect or analyze. Thornton tripped Orpik and punched him on the ice. What else is there to consider?
-Go ahead and scan Twitter. There are more than enough hockey commentators/cavemen already suggesting that if Orpik had fought Thornton, this would have been avoided. Only in this sport would that warped, frontier justice mentality be considered. Players, coaches, executives and commentators romantically laud the notion of players' policing the game. No other sport allows that. As a result, we get to witness another mugging as we saw tonight.
-What shouldn't be ignored are the actions of James Neal in that sequence either. He struck Brad Marchand in the head with his knee. After the game, Neal denied he intended to hit Marchand in the head but admitted he needed to avoid him. Regardless of his true intentions, Neal's hit deserves supplemental discipline as well.
-According to the league's player safety department, both players will have disciplinary hearings. Neal's will be a phone hearing while Thornton's will be in person. An in-person hearing guarantees a suspension of no fewer than six games for for Thornton.
-Neal's last supplemental discipline occurred in April 2012 for a hit against Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. That was 20 months ago. The NHL's window to be considered a "repeat offender" is 18 months.
-According to various media reports in Boston, Eriksson was diagnosed with a concussion off the hit by Orpik.
-On a slightly less depressing subject, what in he world happened to the Penguins down the stretch of this game. On top of the sight seeing Orpik in distress, they simply collapsed in the late stages of the third period.
-The power play is what really failed the Penguins. It might seem odd to call out the power play after it scored two goals, but it wasn't nearly enough. The Penguins had a lot of chances with the man advantage and didn't accomplish nearly enough. They should have poured on more goals. Yes, they were playing without Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin and for a brief time tonight, Chris Kunitz but they need to take advantage of the Bruins' penalties, particularly Thornton's match penalty.
-Tuukka Rask was another big part of this game. With just over two minutes remaining, Sidney Crosby gets loose on a breakaway and was denied by Rask. A goal there ends this game and gives the Penguins a win. Instead, it allowed the Bruins to scrape out two late goals and a win. Rask came through with a clutch, clutch save when his team needed it badly.
-We have some sympathy for the Penguins' blue line which played without Orpik most of the night. The other five defensemen had to pick up some major minutes but that doesn't excuse the freedom they allowed the Bruins to work with in the offensive zone late in regulation.
-Marc-Andre Fleury could have been better. The Bruins' first goal by Reilly Smith was preventable. The last two came with a lot of traffic. That said, Rask stopped the NHL's leading scorer on a breakaway when it mattered most. Fleury couldn't prevent a pair of screened goals when they mattered most.
-The Penguins' penalty kill wasn't an issue as it stopped all four power plays it faced.
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 30-21.
-Attemtped shots were tied, 53-53.
-Neal led the game with five shots on net.
-Dougie Hamilton led the Bruins with three shots.
-Letang led the game with 31:18 of ice time.
-Seidenberg led the Bruins with 26:40 of ice time.
-The Bruins led in faceoffs, 32-21 (60 percent).
-Patrice Bergeron was 17 for 27 (63 percent).
-Crosby was 10 for 27 (37 percent).
-Seidenberg led the game with six shots.
-Craig Adams and Letang each led the Penguins with four blocked shots.