Rangers vs. Penguins Game 2: Keys for Pittsburgh to Win
It's not a series until a road team wins a game.
There's a lot of conventional wisdom swirling around the NHL at this time of year as the emotions of the postseason kick into high gear. Sometimes the knowledge that is dispensed is good and makes sense; sometimes that isn't the case.
The idea that a series doesn't get real until a visiting team secures a win is accurate, and the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves up against that fact after losing Game 1 in overtime to the New York Rangers. Now the boys from Steel City find themselves in a must-win contest early on in the series.
They have two options: win Game 2 and take a 1-1 tie to New York for Game 3, or stare down an 0-2 hole as the Rangers take the ice at home when the series shifts to the Big Apple.
The latter is much less desirable than the former, and the Penguins have a few things to iron out if they hope to come away with a big win in Game 2.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com and are accurate through Game 1 of the series.
Get a Quicker Start
To be fair, neither the Rangers nor the Penguins had a good start in Game 1. The home team lacked the jump that usually comes from playing in front of familiar fans, and Pittsburgh didn't register its first shot on goal until the 6:58 mark of the first period.
Paul Martin took a slap shot at that point, but the Penguins never sustained any decent pressure in the opening frame. They were outshot 13-8 and didn't look ready to play in time for the opening puck drop.
They were much (much) better in the second period, but by that point they were already trailing 2-0 and needed to play catch-up. The Penguins managed two tallies in the second period to make things interesting, but they can't count on being able to bounce back on Henrik Lundqvist like that on a nightly basis.
Take the Offensive Zone and Then Slow Down
The Penguins seemed to be onto something in the second period of Game 1. Both of their goals came from heads-up passes that found the third forward entering the offensive zone as a trailer. This was a bit of a shift from the strategy Pittsburgh was utilizing in the first—getting traffic in front of Lundqvist and then firing away.
Despite the success with finding the third forward late as the play developed on the rush, we really didn't see the Penguins go back to this well as the game progressed. Maybe now they've had time to review the tape and have clearly seen how quick the Rangers are to collapse around their goalie.
There might not be many rebound plays or cross-slot passes available in Game 2, so the Penguins would be wise to slow things down after taking the blue line. Instead of defaulting to a go-North-go! mindset, pushing the puck forward at all costs, Pittsburgh's top players should be looking behind the play for guys hitting the blue line with a full head of steam.
Don't Panic on the Power Play
The strongest part of Pittsburgh's effort in Game 1 was on the power play. During five-on-five play, the more offensive-minded Penguins struggled to find the time and space necessary to make skilled plays on offense.
Both power-play units looked incredibly dynamic, though, producing seven shots and a handful of Grade A chances. After a 0-for-4 outing, there might be a temptation to shake things up a bit on the man advantage.
That shouldn't happen, though. Pittsburgh looked dangerous during its power-play opportunities, and a similarly high level of pressure in Game 2 should lead to a breakthrough. Keep bodies in motion and keep New York's top shot-blockers guessing about patterns of movement.
Watch the Obstruction
If you get your stick vertical and into the opponent's midsection in this series, expect to be whistled for a hook. If you use your free hand to impede the opponent's progress, expect to be called for a hold. Those lines were drawn in Game 1, and it's up to the Penguins to make the adjustment.
The Rangers had four power-play opportunities, and three of them came from obstruction calls. The referees aren't going to let this stuff slide, so don't make any obvious infractions with the stick or free hand.
Not because New York's power play is dangerous—it's the second-least-effective team during five-on-four play in these playoffs—but because it breaks up the flow of the game. Pittsburgh is at its best when lines are rolling and Crosby, Malkin and James Neal don't have to cool off for two minutes during a penalty kill.
The Rangers might score with the extra man at some juncture, but flow should be the name of the game in Game 2. That favors the Penguins and their talented top-six.
Marc-Andre Fleury Needs to Be Better
It was a key in Game 1 of the first round a year ago, it was a key in Game 1 of this series against the Rangers and it will continue to be a key for the Penguins moving forward—Fleury must play better. He can't continue to give up one softie a game and expect to come out on top against Lundqvist.
The first goal that New York scored was a must-stop, and "Flower" was beaten not once, but twice in overtime due to a strange sequence that was set up by a referee waiving the first goal off and allowing play to continue.
"King's" save percentage in Game 1 was .944. That kind of performance wins hockey games, especially in the playoffs. Fleury's save percentage was .889. That kind of performance leads to getting swept out of the second round.
It really is that simple.