The Pittsburgh Penguins were humiliated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in game two on Friday night. They took untimely penalties, made bad decisions, were sloppy with the puck, and could not generate anything with their power play.
As the series shifts to Tampa Bay for the next two games, the Pens find themselves in need of at least one road win to claim this series. Tonight's game is absolutely pivotal, as the winner will have the inside track in advancing to round two.
The Penguins have much to improve upon from game two, but these are the three things they absolutely must do in order to steal tonight's game from the Lightning.
The Penguins led the league in penalty killing during the 2010-2011 regular season, thwarting 86.1 percent of their opponents odd-man advantages.
Through two games against the Lightning, they are killing penalties at a 71.4 percent clip.
Granted it has only been two games, and both of those power play goals game in game two. But the Lightning have a lethal power play, having led the Eastern Conference in power play conversion at 20.5 percent during the regular season.
The Penguins are going to have to adjust their penalty killing scheme to keep up with the Lightning. Guy Boucher rolled out a much different looking power play unit in game two, moving Steven Stamkos from the left half-wall to the off point. Martin St. Louis worked the left side of the net, shifting over from his usual spot on the half-wall. And Vincent Lecavalier was parked in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. This clearly confused the Penguins as St. Louis cashed in from his new spot and a breakdown in front of Fleury led to a Lecavalier power play marker.
As far as the Penguins 0 for 13 power play is concerned? There is not much to say about it other than it is completely ineffective at every element. They cannot gain the offensive zone, they cannot set up efficiently, and they struggle to get the opposition moving around enough to create solid shooting and passing lanes.
It should be abundantly clear that there is little hope for them going forward in this series if they continue to fail on the man advantage. As long as Tampa Bay can take penalties at will, knowing they have nothing to fear when the Pens have the man advantage, it will be nearly impossible for the Penguins to put up enough goals to beat them.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have adopted a 1-3-1 trapping style of defense under rookie coach Guy Boucher. The Pens traditionally have had difficulty with the 1-3-1 (See: New Jersey Devils, whose 1-3-1 has given the Pens fits for decades). Dan Bylsma has done a fairly good job of game-planning around this with a questionably-legal tactic that involves a loophole in the icing rule.
Put simply, a defenseman sends the puck down the ice from his own blue line, shooting it past a forward in the process. The forward “accidentally on purpose” makes an effort to play the puck, letting it pass by him into the attacking zone. The linesman interprets this feigned effort by the forward as reason enough to wave off icing, while the weak-side forward and center crash the offensive zone and attempt to win the chase for the puck in the corner.
(Note: A more in-depth analysis of this attack is available here, and full credit for spotting this should go to the incomparable Mike Colligan, whom if you are not reading, you should be).
The issue with this attack is you need: 1) grinding, big-bodied forwards to win the puck battles in the corner; and 2) skilled forwards to convert on the chances generated by winning those puck battles. The Penguins, without Crosby and Malkin, only really have No. 1. They have done a decent job of winning the battles along the boards but are not converting those victories into goals.
So how do the Pens prevent Tampa from dropping back into the 1-3-1?
Score the first goal.
Better yet, score the first two.
The 1-3-1 is a great strategy when you have the lead or the game is tied; rarely does a team playing the 1-3-1 get a great many offensive opportunities. It is a neutral zone trap designed to thwart up-ice rushes, gain possession of the puck, and clear it back down into the other guys’ end.
If the Pens can get on the board first it will force the Lightning to have to bring at least one more forward up into the attacking zone, which is one less player the Pens have to maneuver around in the neutral zone, which will (theoretically) lead to more scoring chances.
The record crowd of 18,507 at Consol Energy Center was absolutely insane as the puck dropped for Game 2. The Pens came out flying in the first minute, with Tyler Kennedy nearly sniping Roloson about 50 seconds in.
At 1:21, Max Talbot took at stupid retaliatory penalty, slashing Dominic Moore. Momentum gone.
Minutes later, during a four-on-four, Kris Letang pinched below the Lightning goal line, leaving Brooks Orpik on an island, unable to defend the ensuing Tampa Bay two-on-one, and Eric Brewer sucked the life out of Consol with an unreal wrister over Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder.
Later in the game, Paul Martin—one of the keys to the Penguins regular-season success—fumbled a puck at the red line. Another odd-man rush. Another goal.
At 19:39 of the second Period—a period the Pens had dominated—Brooks Orpik was (mistakenly) sent to the box for a cross-check. Five seconds later, St. Louis drove in the dagger. A late goal that pushed the Lightning lead back to three and effectively ended the game.
This is just a few of the dozens of uncharacteristic mistakes the Penguins made in Game 2. It’s difficult to say for sure why they were so sloppy. Letang had one of his worst games of the year. Fleury let in at least one goal he should not have (and you could make the case that Lecavalier’s power play marker was also a softy). It was just a sloppy game all around.
The Penguins did not win 49 games by accident. The game they played on Friday was one of the worst you will see them play. Expect Bylsma and company to have made the proper adjustments over the weekend, and the Penguins to come out strong tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.