PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PLAYOFF ANALYSIS
ROUND 2, GAME 1
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
A very key component to the Eastern Conference Semifinals match-up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators will be the battle between the regular season’s #2 power play and the regular season’s #1 penalty kill. The Penguins ran at a 24.7% success rate with the man advantage, finishing second only to the Washington Capitals (26.8%). The Senators turned aside 88.0% of their shorthanded situations, edging out the Toronto Maple Leafs (87.9%) for first in that category.
Pittsburgh has only increased their performance in the post-season, upping their mark to 36% through seven post-season games to lead the NHL. On the other hand, Ottawa has slipped to 78.3% on the penalty kill in six post-season games.
On the flip side, the Pittsburgh penalty kill has also significantly increased its success rate in the post-season (92.0%) over the regular season (79.6%), which was very much a determining factor in their series win over the New York Islanders. Ottawa also helped itself advance by jumping to 24.0% against the Montreal Canadiens after chugging along at only 15.9% in the regular season. An 0-5 night in Game 1 against the Penguins has Ottawa now at 20% on the power play in the post-season.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS POWER PLAY
Power Play Goals = 2
Power Play Opportunities = 4
Power Play Percentage = 50%
Power Play Shots = 4
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 1 shot allowed, 0 goals against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 2:56 (1:28 per PPG)
Power Play Faceoffs = 1 of 5, 20.0%
Primary 1st unit = Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz, Neal
Primary 2nd unit = Malkin, Iginla, Martin, Niskanen, Morrow
Power Play Goal Scorers = Martin, Kunitz
In 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers went an astonishing 15-1 in the regular season. One of the staples of that team was that they often finished off games with the offense driving the field, already in the lead, as the clock ticked away, ending with the game in the “victory formation” inside the opponent’s red zone. That team was just that dominant.
The 2013 version of the Pittsburgh Penguins is starting to develop a similar look. But instead of a victory formation, their look is to put a makeshift “power play 3” on the ice in the closing stages of a win, with a healthy lead on the scoreboard and a penalty being served by their opponent. In three of the five wins for the Penguins this post-season, that has been exactly how the game concluded. This team is becoming just that dominant.
The Penguins got this game rolling by drawing an early penalty, giving them a chance to grab the upper hand in the game and possibly the series. They employed yet another new look in personnel with their top unit, putting both Chris Kunitz and James Neal on the ice together and sliding Jarome Iginla to the second unit. But their clear plan of attack was to get the puck to Sidney Crosby, who had a strong game despite not collecting a single point.
With the big bodies of Neal and Kunitz around the net, Ottawa was forced to stay to the inside. Then Crosby did a tremendous job at keeping the Senators on their heels by consistently looking to move the puck towards the net. This set up two decent chances for Kris Letang on the opposite side of the ice, as well as a one-timer by Crosby in a situation where the puck was returned to his side of the ice. Ottawa is going to have a fit trying to figure out how to counter this approach throughout the series.
But the Senators did manage to survive that attack over the first portion of the first penalty. However, the second unit for Pittsburgh did not make their job any easier. Evgeni Malkin stayed on the ice and moved from working the top of the zone to skating deep into the zone, a move that probably surprised the visitors. Malkin just missed on a shot from the slot, but he was quick to the loose puck and even quicker to move it to Paul Martin at the right point. Martin’s shot went off a defender and found the back of the net, just one of many ways the Penguins have found ways to score on the power play this post-season.
Despite flexing their muscles pretty well for most of two periods, Pittsburgh still only clung to a 2-1 lead late in the second period. When they were given a power play with just over two minutes left in the period, the time was right for the power play to throw a haymaker. They did just that, as a slightly-disrupted set play from Letang to Iginla resulted in Kunitz forcing a rebound off of Craig Anderson and into the net for a 3-1 lead.
The superb play of Letang and Martin has significantly boosted the work done by the power play. Both players have worked with both power play units, and their ability to get the puck up the ice, distribute it inside the zone, and generate shots on goal adds a dimension to the PP that is very hard to contain. Both players have quietly amassed 2 goals and 5 assists in 7 playoff games, and 3 of those combined 4 goals have come on the power play. Additionally, they have both collected 3 assists with the man advantage.
The only true weakness to the Pittsburgh power play in Game 1 was their performance on face-offs. The Penguins were only able to win one of five draws on the night, but in the grand scheme of things, this barely slowed their overall attack. Considering that Pittsburgh’s second chance of the night lasted only 22 seconds, and their final trip to the power play was the aforementioned “victory formation,” the Penguins came through with big strikes to topple the Senators.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PENALTY KILL
Power Play Goals Allowed = 0
Power Play Opportunities = 5
Penalty Kill Percentage = 100%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 7
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Total Time Shorthanded: 8:22
Shorthanded Chances = 2 shots, 1 goal
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 5 of 9, 55.6%
Not only did the Penguins completely blank the Senators power play in Game 1, they sealed the game in the third period by scoring their first shorthanded goal of the playoffs. That goal by Pascal Dupuis capped off a 3-goal edge for the Pens on special teams, the exact margin of victory in the hockey game.
Ottawa’s game plan was to move the puck quickly and then get it to the net once an opening presented itself. The combination of the Penguins containing the middle well, clearly away nearly every rebound, and getting clutch saves from Tomas Vokoun smothered the Senators every time a Penguin took a trip to the box.
The only time Ottawa got a rebound chance was on their final power play of the night. Sergei Gonchar used some of his classic footwork at the left point to get a good shot on goal, but the rebound shot off the stick of Colin Greening met the left goal post instead of the back of the net. The Penguins did a tremendous job against the Islanders in eliminated rebound chances on the penalty kill, and if that trend continues against the Senators, look for the Pittsburgh penalty kill to again play a major factor in the outcome of the series.
The major weakness of the penalty kill continues to happen before the PK even takes to the ice. Matt Cooke did an excellent job at drawing negative attention to himself in Game 1, but James Neal failed to do the same. Neal took yet another post-whistle penalty in the second period, putting his team down a man when the game’s goal differential was still at one. It is abundantly apparent that the NHL has employed “reputation officiating” in the playoffs, putting players like Neal, Cooke, and Douglas Murray on the wrong end of marginal calls. But by now, Neal has to recognize he is not going to get the benefit of the doubt when he gets involved in scrums after the whistle. To be fair, the second penalty issued to Neal was very weak, but again, this speaks to the unfortunate target placed on his undisciplined play.
The Penguins altered their forecheck for Game 1, going back to a system they used a lot during the regular season. Instead of pressuring the puck directly, the oncoming forecheckers each swung from the middle of the ice to the boards, picking up an Ottawa player in that area. This contained Ottawa to the middle of the ice and allowed the Penguins to bunch up against them at the far blue line. The Senators did adjust a few times by chipping the puck behind the line of defense from the red line. But from this alignment, the Penguins are able to quickly get to their defensive formation, which prevents a quick strike and immediately puts Pittsburgh into its effective PK system.
An area of this series that will be fun to watch is going to be the one-on-one battles between Ottawa’s Chris Neil and the Pittsburgh duo of Murray and Brooks Orpik. Neil’s duty is to get his strong frame to the front of the net on the power play and be as much of a pest as possible. Orpik and Murray showed no hesitation to take on this challenge, and neither player gave up an inch of space freely. That is all part of a good night’s work for those players and their penalty-killing teammates.
SPECIAL TEAMS SUMMARY
The work of the Pittsburgh special teams units – particularly their penalty killing – pushed the Penguins past the New York Islanders and into the second round against the Ottawa Senators. Those groups not only picked right up where they had left off in the previous series, but they also seemed to kick it up a notch in Game 1.
Their sheer dominance over the Senators allowed the Penguins to walk away with a rather convincing win, 4-1. Pittsburgh generally controlled the play in all aspects of the game for much of the 60 minutes, as evidenced by a 40-26 edge in hits. But that effort would not have appeared to be so compelling had the special teams units not performed as well as they did.
To put things in perspective, the Penguins did trounce the Islanders in Game 1 of the first round, and this series is far from over, to say the least. But Ottawa is going to have a terrible time trying to come out victorious if they cannot accomplish the mighty task of winning the overall special teams game. Pittsburgh was certainly back to looking like its old self in Game 1, and even a decline in play in upcoming games can easily be overshadowed by a power play that continues to produce and a penalty killing squad that consistently finds a way to get the job done.
COMPOSITE POST-SEASON STATISTICS
SERIES | PLAYOFFS
Power Play Goals: 2 | 9
Power Play Opportunities: 4 |25
Power Play Percentage: 50.0% | 36.0%
Power Play Shots: 4 | 35
5-on-3 Situations: 0 opportunities (0:00) | 3 opportunities (1:09)
5-on-3 Chances: 0 goals, 0 shots | 1 goal, 2 shots
Shorthanded Chances Allowed: 1 shot, 0 goals against | 3 shots, 1 goal against
Minutes of Power Play Time: 2:56 (1:28 per PPG) | 33:16 (3:42 per PPG)
Power Play Face-offs: 1 of 5, 20.0% | 32 of 55, 58.2.4%
Power Play Goals Allowed: 0 | 2
Power Play Opportunities: 5 | 25
Penalty Kill Percentage: 100% | 92.0%
Power Play Shots Allowed: 7 | 38
5-on-3 Situations: 0 opportunities (0:00) | 0 opportunities (0:00)
5-on-3 Chances: 0 goals, 0 shots | 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances: 2 shots, 1 goal scored | 2 shots, 1 goal
Minutes of Shorthanded Time: 8:22 | 45:01 (22:31 per PPG)
Shorthanded Face-offs: 5 of 9, 55.6% | 23 of 41, 56.1%