Pittsburgh Penguins Searching for Answers Despite Solid Performance


The Pittsburgh Penguins should have expected the New York Rangers to hit the ice with energy and speed in game 1. They entered the playoffs with the league’s best record and had the electricity of their home crowd to push them. Despite the obvious, the Penguins started the game with a lackluster performance and took four penalties in the first period.

I’m not sure what the locker room conversation was during the first intermission, but there was a calming factor among the team. They didn’t panic, they dialed it in from a disciplinary standpoint, and they put together a solid two periods of hockey thereafter.

For the first time in a long time I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their poise and performance last night. Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head while depth players such as Blake Comeau, Max Lapierre, and Daniel Winnik turned in a solid effort. You have to feel refreshed being able to say that.

But, in the NHL playoffs, it doesn’t matter how many moral victories you have during a game if you don’t prevail on the scoreboard. There were a lot of positives from last night’s defeat, but they’re only positives if you use them to improve for game 2.

The first thing the Pittsburgh Penguins will need to address is their transition strategy. This may be easily fixed if Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot return to the lineup, but Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin need to get the puck off their sticks in a hurry. You have to adjust when you’re missing guys like Ehrhoff, Pouliot, Kris Letang, and Olli Maatta. I don’t necessarily think you have to go to an all-out stretch-pass breakout strategy, but mixing it in a bit surely wouldn’t hurt.

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Discipline will be another major factor. Mike Johnston was quoted today in saying that the standard has been set, and it’s up to the players to adjust to it. I’m unsure of the standard as it seemed to change from the first period to the third, but either way, Pittsburgh needs to be smarter. Antics like the slash that we saw from David Perron, or the crosscheck from Steve Downie will kill this team’s momentum and play to the strength’s of the Rangers.

Game 2 is going to be the ultimate test for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They haven’t been afforded much of a chance in this series, and falling behind 2-0 would all but end their season. They haven’t been good enough on home ice to make me think otherwise. There’s a strong chance of them losing at least one of two home games when the series returns to Pittsburgh so stealing one at Madison Square Garden is obviously crucial.

From a possession standpoint, the Pittsburgh Penguins bottom-6 had a very solid game. It’s rare on this team that they will trump Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and their comrades in the top-6, but that’s exactly what happened. While it’s refreshing to see the bottom-6 perform the way they did, without the big guns firing alongside them this team will go nowhere. Mike Johnston and Company will be looking to get Sid and Geno rolling tomorrow night.

Staying out of the box so that Crosby can play more than three minutes in the first period will be a great start.  Also, it’s clear that it’s time to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice together. Sprinkle in Patric Hornqvist on the opposite wing and let him reek havoc in the crease.  I understand that it has been less than successful in the past, but at this point, Johnston should be pulling out all stops in order to get this offense producing.

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