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Insider Only Game 2 Special Teams Analysis: Islanders took away Iginla one-timer option, made two key adjustments on power play

NHL_2013_StanleyCupPlayoffs_English_PrimaryPITTSBURGH PENGUINS PLAYOFF ANALYSIS

SPECIAL TEAMS
ROUND 1, GAME 2
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
They say a series is not really a series until the home team loses. Well we have that now. Just like Game 2 had a completely different look – and winner – than Game 1, the special teams play in this one also adopted a new face. The story of the special teams in this game was more about what did not happen than what actually did happen.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS POWER PLAY
Power Play Goals = 1
Power Play Opportunities = 4
Power Play Percentage = 25%
Power Play Shots = 10
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 0 shots allowed, 0 goals against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 6:22 (3:11 per PPG)
Power Play Faceoffs = 7 of 7, 100%
Primary 1st unit = Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Iginla, Kunitz
Primary 2nd unit = Jokinen, Morrow, Bennett, Martin, Niskanen
Power Play Goal Scorers = Crosby
Analysis:
The loss of James Neal to injury for Game 2 had very little effect on the Pittsburgh power play because the return of Sidney Crosby immediately filled that void, to say the least. Additionally, Neal played the low side of the right wing in Game 1, which is a very natural power play spot for Crosby. So no changes in alignment were really necessary, but that is not really how it played out. There is no question the presence of Crosby is a huge positive for the first unit, but the overall results did not show that, despite Crosby scoring a PPG.
Before covering those details, it is vital to note that the Islanders did a far better job on the penalty kill in Game 2. They were much more aggressive and enthusiastic in all facets of their game, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played significantly better than he had in his abbreviated appearance in Game 1. This took away a lot of the time and space the Penguins used to their advantage in the opener.
crosbysssAside from that, Pittsburgh seemed to have much less of a structure to their power play. The focus was far more to the right side of the ice, given that Crosby was on that side. This virtually nullified the use of Jarome Iginla and his lethal one-timer, which was very effective in Game 1. Iginla finished this game with just one shot on the power play, which was not a one-timer from the left circle.
Evgeni Malkin also seemed to roam a lot more freely than he had in Game 1, and while he was certainly more of a threat because of this, the power play lost its purpose and became more ad-lib. Malkin did fire off five of his game-high 10 shots with the man advantage, but with Iginla, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz being limited to just one combined shot on the PP, the many weapons of the Penguins’ top unit were essentially narrowed down to just two.
Speaking of Kunitz, his presence was largely unnoticed in Game 2, particularly on the power play. The change in the approach of the first unit surely contributed to that happening, but the fact that Kunitz was also rather quiet while at even strength, despite playing on a line with Crosby, indicates that #14 just did not play a good game. Kunitz is going to need to get back to his mid-season form in order to help his team pick up goals around the net in these playoffs.
Pittsburgh put the Islanders away in Game 1 when they scored on the backend of back-to-back penalties. A pivotal point in this game was a four-minute penalty issued to John Tavares late in the second period. While a goal during that extended power play in this game may not have put away the Islanders in quite the same fashion, it could have made all the difference in the outcome.
Instead, the attack was slow to get started and never really established much until the second unit took to the ice, which was also their first and only appearance in the game. The first unit got back on the ice to end the second period, and they nearly converted when Crosby pushed a one-timer off the post to the left of Nabokov. The Pens’ failure to score as the penalty expired in the third period only lifted the play of the Islanders even more, a confidence boost that added to their surge towards tying the series at one apiece.
The obvious bright spot to the power play in Game 2 was Crosby. He scored on the first power-play opportunity of the game, a flair for the dramatic we have become accustomed to seeing out of him. He had three shots on the man advantage, plus was denied a goal by the unfriendly post and just missed on another shot that went across the goal mouth. The less-obvious highlight to the power play was their ability to control the puck with the extra man by winning all 7 face-offs, giving up no shorthanded shots, and establishing a lot of zone time on each advantage.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PENALTY KILL
Power Play Goals Allowed = 1
Power Play Opportunities = 4
Penalty Kill Percentage = 75%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 6
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 0 shots, 0 goals
Minutes of Shorthanded Time = 6:08 (6:08 per PPG)
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 4 of 6, 67%
Analysis:
The play on the penalty kill pretty well mirrored the play at even strength for the Penguins. The defensemen looked very careless and out-of-sync, while the forwards were late to react to a lot of support situations. Sadly, this sort of performance looked a lot like the one the Penguins displayed in last year’s playoff failure against the Philadelphia Flyers, a disaster they were hoping never to repeat. But to their credit, they scrapped and battled enough to at least improve statistically as the game went on.
The biggest flaw in the penalty killing over the first half of the game was the fact they had to use it so much in the first place. In Game 1, Pittsburgh was only sent to the box one time in the first 30 minutes of play. In Game 2, they made six trips to the box, four of which put them down a man. And one of those penalties – the marginal boarding call on Iginla – cut short a Pittsburgh power play. To their credit, the Penguins did not take a penalty in the second half of the game, but a few less penalties in the first half may have given the Islanders far less momentum and confidence.
The first PP shot by New York came off the stick of Tavares, who was held without a single shot in all of Game 1. That was just one of many differences in this game, obviously. The Islanders also made a slight change in alignment for Game 2.
Matt Moulson was firmly planted in front of the net in the series opener and never waivered from that. It appeared that would be the case again, but New York instead used more of a tandem of Moulson and Brad Boyes moving in and out of the net area. When the puck was on the right side, Moulson would move to that side of the net and Boyes would take the net front; the reverse would happen when the puck moved to the left wing.
letangThis led directly to the first goal for NYI when Tavares was able to move the puck to Moulson at the side of the net. That immediately opened up options for the Isles power play, and when Moulson tried to use the option of feeding Boyes on the backside of the crease, a scrambling PK unit saw Paul Martin accidently deflect the pass off Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net. The fact that Martin was facing directly at his own net instead of establishing a good defensive posture with his skates pointed up the ice shows the general confusion that crept back into the PK play.
Pittsburgh was also far less physical in front of the net in the game. The adjustment by the Islanders to move players in and out of that area contributed to this, to be sure. But when players were around the net, the Penguins did not make them earn that space. Douglas Murray was far less effective because of this.
Another adjustment made by the Islanders was to move the puck more across the top of the zone and generate more shot attempts from the center point by Mark Streit. This kept the Penguins from getting as aggressive as they were two nights earlier. Streit was not able to get a shot through to Fleury, but the combination of the attempt to do so and the passing options he had forced Pittsburgh to be more conservative. The Penguins took that a little too far, though, and ultimately ended up flat-footed too often. This kind of behavior leads to delayed reactions and scrambling situations, which is exactly what has happened on, say, the last several post-season power play goals given up by this team.
Despite the susceptibilities, the PK killed off the final three shorthanded situations, which included preventing the Islanders from even getting a shot through to Fleury on their last opportunity. A nice shot block by Murray on Tavares at the end of the kill seemed critical at the time, but NYI came back to score the game-tying goal only a few moments later.
Face-offs were again a positive for the Penguins, as they won four of six draws and converted a few of those into full-ice clears. They were also strong at their own blue line, exhibiting a lot more aggressiveness in that area to disrupt the zone entries by the Islanders. That also allowed the PK units to gain a little more poise, as well as keep them out of situations where they could be exploited by sloppy defensive work inside the zone.

SUMMARY
While special teams were statistically a wash in Game 2, but they could have made all the difference if the Penguins’ power play could have contributed just a bit more, particularly with a full, four-minute power play to work with in a tied hockey game. A man-advantage opportunity in the third period – beyond the mere 31 seconds they had to start the period – could also have allowed their star power to make more of an impact with the game on the line. But it is never a good strategy to rely on the inconsistent officiating of the NHL to do the Penguins any favors.
The Pittsburgh penalty kill looked very vulnerable in this one, as did all facets of team defense. They clearly have a lot of work to do in that area, but they still were able to patch up some holes and rise to the challenge in what could have swung the game in favor of the Islanders much earlier. This group has a pending upgrade coming when Brooks Orpik rejoins the lineup, though breakdowns in structure and strategy will need to improve with it.

COMPOSITE STATISTICS (through 2 playoff games)
Power Play Goals = 3
Power Play Opportunities = 8
Power Play Percentage = 37.5%
Power Play Shots = 18
5-on-3 Situations = 1 opportunity, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances Allowed = 1 shot, 0 goals against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 12:25 (4:07 per PPG)
Power Play Faceoffs = 14 of 18, 77.8%
Power Play Goals Allowed = 1
Power Play Opportunities = 8
Penalty Kill Percentage = 12.5%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 12
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 0 shots, 0 goals
Minutes of Shorthanded Time = 14:08 (14:08 per PPG)
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 9 of 14, 64.3%

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Dave Fryer

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