Penguins during time out
Seeking to end their four-year run of postseason disappointments, the Pittsburgh Penguins entered the 2013 NHL Playoffs as the popular choice among many hockey experts to once again hoist the Stanley Cup.
Having survived a hard-fought first-round series against the New York Islanders, the Penguins emerged as a different team than the one that started the playoffs. By replacing Marc-Andre Fleury with Tomas Vokoun in net and inserting Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale in place of Tanner Glass and Jussi Jokinen, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has shown that he is willing to make the necessary adjustments.
The question remains whether the Penguin players themselves are willing to make the necessary adjustments as well.
As the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins, here are three adjustments that the Penguins must make if they are to continue their march to the Stanley Cup.
In the regular season, taking a bad penalty can cost you a game. In the playoffs, that game can cost you a series.
That is why the Penguins must avoid taking bad penalties and minimize their opponent's power-play chances. During their first-round matchup against the New York Islanders, penalties to both teams played a big role in the series.
In Game 3, back-to-back Islander penalties led to two quick power-play goals as the Penguins tied the game. In overtime, Chris Kunitz scored the game-winning goal on another power play after Brad Strait was called for holding Sidney Crosby.
In Game 4, the Penguins were called for four offensive-zone penalties. During the second period, a goaltender interference call on Matt Cooke resulted in only the second power-play goal in the series by the Islanders, who built on that momentum to win the game and tie the series.
In order to continue their run through the playoffs, the Penguins must play a physical but disciplined game and avoid taking unnecessary or retaliatory penalties.
Given the bad blood that exists between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, that may prove difficult in their second-round matchup.
Matt Cooke drives to the net against Ottawa.
Facing a hot goaltender in Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators, the Penguins must show a willingness to put bodies in front of the net in the hopes of scoring "ugly goals."
As a team loaded with offensive talent, Pittsburgh seems content at times to play a perimeter game and look to make the perfect play instead of making the simplest one. As a result, they have struggled at times to score goals in the playoffs against defensive-minded teams like the Senators.
The Penguins have had success in the playoffs against the Senators in the past and Anderson is winless against the Penguins this year. However, he has proven to be capable of stealing games for the Senators as he did against Montreal in the first round.
While the acquisitions of Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla have made them bigger and more physical, the Penguins as a team must show a willingness to get to the front of the net to win in the playoffs.
Ottawa forces a turnover in the Penguins' zone.
While goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was made the scapegoat for the Penguins’ struggles against the Islanders in their first-round matchup, the real culprit was the team's tendency to turn the puck over.
Throughout the six-game series, the Penguins totaled 51 giveaways to the Islanders' 37. In their loss in Game 2, the Pens had 11 giveaways to the Isles' two. In Game 6, all three Islander goals were the direct result of defensive-zone turnovers.
Usually in the playoffs, the team that wins does the little things well like clearing pucks out of the defensive zone, getting pucks deep in the offensive zone and avoiding costly turnovers. If the Penguins are to advance, they must find a way to take better care of the puck and avoid turnovers.
Otherwise, it won't matter who the starting goaltender is or how talented this Penguins team may be.
Penguins and Islanders shake hands.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, success is often dependent upon the ability to adjust on the fly, whether that adjustment occurs between periods, between games or between series.
Having shown the ability to adjust to a younger and faster New York Islanders team in the first round, the Penguins must continue to make adjustments against a bigger and stronger Ottawa Senators team.
Penguins fans can only hope that next time it won't take four games and a sense of desperation before they do.