As I said on the pregame, I did not have a good feeling about this game. In that same pregame, FF made a spot on comment that the Hawks have trouble with a disciplined defensive strategy, and so it was. For two periods, the Pens had the Hawks pretty completely contained. If the three goals weren't enough to highlight the control the Pens had, the constant trip to the box to feel shame by the Hawks told the rest of the story. With the exception of a couple of early shifts where Q was sneaky enough to dodge the Pens plans, the Pens were able to get the matchups they wanted and it was very effective. If this is the only egg the Hawks lay this month, this is a good month.
Half way through the first period, Kruger was carrying the puck up the boards into the offensive zone. As he crossed the red line, he was completely destroyed by a hit to the head by a douchebag who left his feet. It reminded me a lot of the Phadouche hit on Okposo in preseason last year. The puck was nearby, but Kruger was basically already fully contained by a Pens player he was scrumming with. He had his head down, but Engelland came flying in with his stick well off the ice and left his feet to drill Kruger. Say what we will about John Scott, he was the only one on the ice willing to do something about it and he did exactly what he should have. Engelland did not get a penalty, which left the Hawks shorthanded and the Pens scored about a minute later. I think Engelland should get Shannahammered for that hit, but the worst thing was that Kruger did not return in the third period. No word yet on his status. Post game Q says "We'll see tomorrow"
After two periods, I was getting pretty disinterested. Between the second and third I had a text exchange with HH and told him I would have turned it off I didn't have the wrap. In the third though, the Hawks gave us a reason to watch them. To start things off, Q shook up the lines like crazy and it paid off. From the start, the Pens were on their heels and by the end, the Hawks had outshot them 19-4. On the first goal, Toews carried the puck up the right boards and put a backhand across the crease that Stalberg more or less put in because even though he didn't touch it, he hit the D's stick which sent the puck in. On the next goal, the Hawks executed a wicked tic tac toe from Hossa to Kane to Stalberg. Not done there, Stalberg nailed the post twice more in the period. With the momentum, I really thought the Hawks would pick up the third, but Fleury really was the star of the period and kept his team in it when they were getting run around. On what was basically the last face off that mattered, the Pens house was playing Ace of Spades by Motorhead and I thought it would have been awesome to see the Hawks score off that play. Had the Hawks somehow won, it would have been a win that would have made Lemmy look handsome in comparison.
What was bothering me going into this game was what FF alluded to. Systems teams frequently beat the Hawks. I wasn't unhappy with the effort, which I thought was okay, but judging from the penalties, the Hawks were getting caught out of position a lot and were getting beat on a lot of puck possessions. That is the strength of a system and that is the constant chink in this teams armor. On the flip side, however, Q's team never sees a constant lineup and when he changed things up between periods, the Pens really didn't have any answers for it and likely would have lost if not for Fluery, who truly is an elite goalie. If I take something positive away here, it's that the Hawks did keep the score close despite getting outplayed and they came back with a vengeance in the third. What keeps nagging me though is that the Pens were without several key players and they were more than the Hawks could handle for two periods. This was not a horrible game, but I think SB still has some work to do before the playoffs.
A final word about John Scott. His standing up for Kruger was absolutely needed and his back rush to stop a breakaway was actually pretty incredible. Though I have played devils advocate for Scott, I don't believe he is a long term solution for our D core. That said, I don't think Lepisto is either. While I like some of Lepisto's skills, he can't physically outplay Scott against other teams. The east is no longer soft and if the Hawks have aspirations of winning there, they are going to have to either keep a guy like Scott, or find a more skilled version of him that can handle regular minutes. Apologies in advance for a disjointed wrap up, the Nyquil is getting the better of me today.