Penguins vs. Rangers Game 4: Keys for Pittsburgh to Win
The Pittsburgh Penguins already got what they went to New York for in Game 3. After dropping Game 1 on home ice before winning Game 2, the Penguins needed to win either of the next two contests in the Big Apple to reestablish home-ice advantage.
They did just that and are now poised to take a commanding 3-1 series lead before heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. Considering how many things have gone sour for the Penguins against the New York Rangers in the second round, that's not a bad position to be in.
Sidney Crosby wasn't at his best early on in the semifinal, and Marc-Andre Fleury was so-so in the first game of the series. Things seem to be coming together for the Penguins now, though, and they are in position to put the Rangers into a corner by winning another road game.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate through Game 3.
No More Dumb, Needless Penalties
The Rangers are due for a power-play goal. Eventually, they will punch through, and suddenly, the tallies with the extra man will be coming in bunches. There are too many finishers for the streak of 34 consecutive power plays without a goal to continue much longer, and Pittsburgh shouldn't tempt fate by taking silly penalties.
Marcel Goc's roughing penalty on Dominic Moore early in Game 3 is a great example of what the Penguins should be avoiding at all costs.
James Neal's brutal high stick on Jesper Fast towards the end of the first period was also avoidable and dumb. Fast was bleeding following the play, so the Rangers had four minutes to work on their power play.
New York wasn't able to score—it had five power-play chances to Pittsburgh's one—but sooner or later, it'll convert. Hooks and holds happen sometimes, but there's no need to take meaningless roughing calls early on in a road game.
Ten of New York's 35 shots in Game 3 came on the power play. Less penalties will lead to fewer shots, which only increases the likelihood of a win.
More Shots from the Defense
When the Penguins are at their absolute best, they're generating shots from all over the ice. They have success in finding the third forward late on offensive zone entries and can create a third wave of attackers by activating defensemen.
They have the horses to make that happen, but the blueliners were alarmingly uninvolved in New York's defensive zone in Game 3. Matt Niskanen managed one shot on goal, as did Kris Letang.
No other defenseman registered a shot. This can partially be explained by the lack of power-play chances that Pittsburgh had, but the Penguins need their defenders activating much more often. The outlet passes have been stellar on the whole, so this is just the next natural step forward.
It's worth remembering that several of Pittsburgh's key defensemen weren't able to play through long stretches of time during the regular season. There's still a feeling-out process going on here, and the Penguins will become a much more dangerous team once that third wave starts activating with a higher frequency.
Protect Marc-Andre Fleury
Sometimes, the only way to snap a goalie out of a hot streak is by making physical contact with him, by forcing him to fight for his ice and by making him look around bodies to find the puck.
Look for the Rangers to make every attempt to make life more difficult for Fleury in Game 4. Alain Vigneault spoke to gathered media following Game 3, and Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger captured these comments from the bench boss:
He's a good goaltender. He's won the Stanley Cup and he's taken his team to the Final one year. He's one of the best in the league and we intend to impede him more than we did last night.
The Rangers are adjusting their game plan, and they're going to be looking to knock the guy who has been Pittsburgh's best player around a bit. It might conflict with the "no dumb penalties" key, but the Penguins need to stick up for their goalie if New York decides to get a little too fresh in the paint.
Shoot Low on Henrik Lundqvist
It may seem counter-intuitive to shoot low on Henrik Lundqvist, but it's something that the Penguins should consider. There are two reasons for this.
As we saw in Game 3, "King" was a little slower getting up and down than usual. New York has played a lot of hockey over the last few weeks, and Lundqvist has played a ton of minutes this season in general.
Only three goalies saw more time in net than the 32-year-old, who played 3,655 minutes during the regular campaign. He also faced more than 1,810 shots. That's a lot of rubber. We're not suggesting that Lundqvist is dead tired and is suddenly going to fall off.
It just takes a fraction of a second to make a difference in a goalie's reaction time, though, and Sidney Crosby's breakaway goal in Game 3 was a great example of that. Shoot low for a period or two, and see what happens.
The second reason is that Pittsburgh is still blowing a ton of shots wide of the net as it guns for the top corners. It seems to happen during almost every offensive rush. There's a prime chance, but it rings off the post or ends up behind the net after a missed opportunity.
So what do the Penguins have to lose by shooting low?
Get a Quick Start
Much has been said about the Rangers playing five times in seven days, including the first three games of this series. They'll get one day of rest before getting back out on the ice for Game 4. The Penguins have the opportunity to jump on a tired club that has had a day to sit back and think about how worn out it is.
These are professional athletes, and they train tirelessly all year long to be able to handle the strain of the postseason. Vigneault finally broke down after Game 3 and relented that the schedule had been "stupid," though, and the Penguins need to take advantage of their fresher legs.
They've yet to have a good start in the first period in this series. They've been good in the second period and are showing improvement in the third, but they've been terrible in the opening frame. Put on a clinic in the first 10 minutes.
That's a good way to ensure leaving New York with a 3-1 series lead.