2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Penguins' Offense Erupts, Roster Changes to Stay?
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In the NHL postseason, one game really can change everything.
At the least, it felt like a palpable shift occurred Wednesday night. The Penguins took their turn running up the scoreboard in the highest-scoring playoff series in NHL history through four games, beating the Flyers 10-3 in front of Philly's home crowd in the series' first elimination game.
Jordan Staal led the goal-scoring assault with a hat-trick and the Pens' first GWG of the series.
"I just wanted to keep it going and didn't want to lose," Staal said, "so just tried to play my best and shoot the puck and was fortunate to get a few tonight."
Staal brought his best Wednesday, as did most Penguins players. Evgeni Malkin, Steve Sullivan and Sidney Crosby joined Staal in earning three-point individual efforts and the rout finally took some of the heat off the Penguins at a time when momentum and rhetoric had taken a sharp turn for the worst.
"It's one win," Crosby said. "We came here to today to try to stay alive."
The Pens and Flyers have combined for 45 goals through four games, the highest combined total in the first four contests of a playoff series in NHL history.
Despite the 3-1 series hole, Wednesday's rout brought Pittsburgh's goal total to within one of the Flyers, 23-22.
Has a definite momentum shift taken place?
Eight of the top 10 and each of the top-five points scorers in the first round of the playoffs come from the PIT-PHI series. Claude Giroux leads all skaters with 10 points. He and Staal are tied for the postseason lead with five goals apiece. The Penguins have five skaters with six or more points.
Most impressive have been the power plays.
When the PP units for these clubs hit the ice, the penalty-killing units should just concede the two minutes and go for hot dogs. Pittsburgh's power play is 7-of-21 in the series (33.3 percent), the second-highest goal total and fourth-best PP percentage in the postseason.
Philadelphia, at 9-of-15 (60 percent), is setting records in conversion percentage and inevitability.
Down two regular defenseman to injury (Paul Martin) and healthy scratch (Ben Lovejoy), the Penguins inserted two rookies into the lineup Wednesday night.
At five-on-five, the Penguins' defense looked rather effective.
Simon Despres and Brian Strait made their playoff debuts in the win, and the Pens' seven-defenseman lineup was effective in its first trial. Despres was a plus-2 with two blocked shots in 13:05 TOI while Strait finished a plus-3 in 12:01 TOI.
Neither rookie saw time on the Penguins' penalty kill, which was torched again for three goals (the only goals allowed by Pittsburgh in the contest).
Through the final two frames, Pittsburgh held the Flyers to 14 shots on goal, all of which were stopped by Fleury. The Pens' defense and backcheck also forced the Flyers into nine giveaways, the first time in the series the Pens have won that battle.
Pittsburgh used seven defensemen for stretches during their Stanley Cup runs in 2008 and 2009. With the high-scoring forwards likely to see increased TOI down 3-1, the new defensive look might be worth sticking to at the loss of another low-minutes, grinding forward.
Another New Power Play
Pittsburgh enjoyed its best power play success of the series Wednesday, outscoring the Flyers on the man-advantage for the first time and subsequently winning their first game.
Four goals on nine chances helped stake the Pens to the 10-3 win, as Staal, Sullivan, Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen buried PP markers.
The first unit saw its third different configuration in four games thanks to James Neal's one-game suspension. A group of Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz with Letang and Sullivan on the points accounted for the improved power play, and perhaps more importantly didn't give the Flyers a shorthanded scoring chance for the first time in four meetings.
With Staal and Niskanen proving so effective, it may not be a stretch to put Neal on a new second unit with those two, Tyler Kennedy and perhaps even Simon Despres.
Such success Wednesday should make the coaching staff hesitant to change the first unit, as well as the new defensive configuration.
Pittsburgh nearly evened up the goal-scoring disparity of the series with the rout, but an area where the Penguins have had a definite edge has been five-on-five goal scoring.
The Pens landed six goals at even strength Wednesday and 15 of their 22 goals have come during regular play (68.2 percent).
Conversely, the Flyers have made hay with nine PP markers and three shorthanded tallies. Over half of their goals in this high-scoring series have come in special teams situations.
With the Flyers getting just 47 percent of their offense during even-strength play, it certainly seems that the Pens have the edge in this aspect.
Pittsburgh's 15-11 even-strength goals advantage means they must do their best to stay out of the box. The Flyers had no power play opportunities after the first period and didn't score once through the final 45 minutes.
That's no coincidence.
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