Penguins vs. Senators: Why Blowout Win Doesn't Solve Pittsburgh's Problems
When the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Friday, the Penguins will have an opportunity to close out the series and clinch a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the team hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2009.
The Senators have overcome a lot of adversity and proved a lot of doubters wrong this season, but erasing a 3-1 series deficit against a superior opponent is a nearly impossible task for this club. Erin Nicks of NHL.com talked to team captain Daniel Alfredsson about the challenge after the game.
Alfie when asked if they can come back. "Probably not. They have too much depth." #Sens— Erin Nicks (@erinnicks) May 23, 2013
Even still, though its Game 4 performance was remarkable in several ways, Pittsburgh's convincing victory over a young Ottawa team didn't solve any of the team's primary weaknesses.
Will Pittsburgh end the series in Game 5?
The Penguins' chances of winning a championship this season will be determined by the play of goaltender Tomas Vokoun and the defensive performance from the team as a whole.
Even though Vokoun is 4-1 since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in the first round against the New York Islanders, he's also shown some signs of weakness. He hasn't tracked pucks very well at times, needlessly giving away many scoring opportunities to the Senators as a result of his rebounds.
As Ian Mendes of Sportsnet pointed out, rebounds were again an issue for the Penguins netminder early in Game 4 when Ottawa led 2-1.
Vokoun's rebound control has been iffy all series. Turris makes him pay with team-leading 5th goal of the playoffs.— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) May 23, 2013
Vokoun has allowed three goals in three of his last five games, but it hasn't been a huge problem for the Penguins of late because they have a strong advantage over the Senators in scoring depth.
Pittsburgh was able to win Game 4 with an offensive explosion despite giving up three goals, but it's important for this team to tighten up defensively; it will not generate this much offense in a likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Boston Bruins, who have a 3-0 lead in their second-round series against the New York Rangers.
The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the year at the moment, and the team's offense has been firing on all cylinders since its remarkable Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Boston ranks third among all playoff teams in scoring with 3.20 goals per game, and it has scored 10 goals against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist through three games. The Bruins also have great depth with four quality lines, including a fourth line that is giving the team some scoring late in games.
Vokoun has to play better and fix some of the problems in his game, because Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask isn't going to give up many goals at the other end of the ice. He's playing with a ton of confidence right now and has allowed just five goals in three games versus New York thus far.
The Penguins also struggled on faceoffs Wednesday night (losing, 34-31), which has been an issue for them all postseason.
Pittsburgh has won just 49.3 percent of its faceoffs in the playoffs, which ranks fifth among the eight remaining teams. The Bruins, meanwhile, have the best faceoff percentage (58.6), and of the five Boston forwards who have taken 70-plus draws, four of them have a success rate above 54 percent.
Another problem for the Penguins is their inability to start games well defensively. Pittsburgh has allowed the most first-period goals (10) of all the remaining teams, and it gave up two against Ottawa in Game 4.
The Penguins cannot rely on their high-powered offense to constantly overcome the team's early defensive struggles. Head coach Dan Bylsma has to do a better job of getting his team focused and intense from the first puck drop.
With that said, there were plenty of positives that the Penguins should look to build on from the blowout victory.
James Neal elevated his play and confidence with his first multi-goal game of the playoffs, while the team's power play scored two goals after going 0-of-6 in Game 3.
Superstar forward and captain Sidney Crosby played very well with a goal and an assist to increase his scoring total to 14 points in nine games. He also made some history with his 40th career playoff goal:
Sidney Crosby has reached 40 career playoff goals in his 77th game, fewest games to reach 40 playoff goals by an active player (from Elias).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2013
Scoring seven goals against a quality goaltender like Craig Anderson is encouraging, but if Pittsburgh doesn't correct some of its main concerns, it won't reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Every great team finds areas in need of improvement no matter how seemingly dominant its recent performances. As a veteran group that has plenty of championship experience, expect the Penguins to make some adjustments and finish the series on Friday.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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