Pittsburgh Penguins: Top 5 Changes Pens Must Make to Move Past First Round

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Apr 20, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

5. Balance ice-time to balance the team’s attack

Playoff hockey is a demanding endeavour – one in which sustained pressure is crucial to emerging victorious.

For the Penguins, the imbalance of their forward corps has often been a killer in this regard. While their top-end talent includes some of the best in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin seem past the days of being relied upon to singlehandedly take over games with dominant stat lines and unstoppable victories.

Crosby’s two-goal Game Two performance proved he can still lead this team forward, but the Rangers 2-1 series lead suggests this isn’t enough to guarantee a second-round berth.

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Heading into Game Four, balancing the ice-time of the Pens’ forwards will be key for head coach Mike Johnston as he aims to spark a strong offensive performance from his club.

The ice-time discrepancies over the series’ first three games shows the effect of this balance.

In Game Two, wherein the Pens emerged with a 4-3 victory and got strong games from both Crosby and Brandon Sutter, the team’s three centres finished with fairly similar totals. Crosby skated for 17:28 while Malkin logged 16:05 and Sutter totalled 15:33. Both Crosby and Sutter finished with multi-point games in the victory.

In Game One, however, Crosby played four more minutes than Sutter and two more than Malkin. The imbalance was even more evident in Game Three – while Malkin and Crosby racked up 20:53 and 19:49, respectively, in the loss, Sutter played only 12:39.

Pittsburgh will need to put forth a more balanced attack if they hope to match a deep team like the Rangers, and Johnston must be more willing to rely on Sutter – who has proven himself as a solid playoff performer.