PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PLAYOFF ANALYSIS
ROUND 3, GAME 3
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
As predicted, producing on the power play was going to be vital if the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to rally out of a 2-0 hole against the Boston Bruins in Game 3. Instead, Pittsburgh laid another egg with the man advantage, going 0-for 6 in a game where a single goal at any point of the contest would have given them the win they so desperately needed.
Conversely, the Penguins’ penalty kill upheld its part admirably, shutting down all six Boston power plays – including three in overtime – without too much fret. The hard work of the penalty kill has given the Penguins a legitimate chance to get their offensive play back in gear. But just as penalty killing shouldered a lot of the blame for the post-season ouster in 2012, the failures of the Pittsburgh power play are on the verge of pushing its team out the door.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS POWER PLAY
Power Play Goals = 0
Power Play Opportunities = 6
Power Play Percentage = 0%
Power Play Shots = 13
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 1 shot allowed, 0 goals against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 12:00
Power Play Faceoffs = 6 of 12, 50.0%
Power Play Goal Scorers = none
- The largest flaw on the power play is that the first unit cannot seem to decide what it wants to do. Dan Bylsma has stuck with consistent personnel on that unit for most of the series, but they have yet to figure out an effective plan of attack. Nor is that plan evident to each other. The passes and shots with the man advantaged used to be predictable to those on the ice, but that is no longer the case. Therefore, execution is slow, decisions come with hesitation, and players are often not in position to get off a quick shot, screen the goaltender, or crash the net front for a rebound.
- The second power play unit seems only to have a “mop-up duty” role in this series. Rarely does that group get started as a full group, and they are generally limited to the final 20 seconds of the penalty. That leads them to basically trying to force something to happen quickly without getting into a set position and working the puck. Additionally, this approach allows Boston to key-in on how to stop only one unit instead of trying to adjust to two different looks.
- The design of the top unit did seem to get back to a slightly more traditional look, putting Kris Letang towards the left-center of the blue line, with Evgeni Malkin to his right. Malkin was working the center and left side more in Game 2. They often lined-up two across the top of the zone that way, and other times shifted into an umbrella look. That shift left a void on the left-wing side that occasionally was filled by Sidney Crosby. But again, there was no consistency to what they were trying to accomplish.
- The third power play of the night, despite not producing a goal, actually made a major contribution to the game. It started off looking rather disorganized, as if they were putting too much pressure on themselves to perform. But then the group found its groove for a few moments and seized a ton of momentum. James Neal nearly scored twice, and Beau Bennett’s drive along the goal line almost led to him stuffing the puck past Tuuka Rask on the far post. The game tilted considerably in favor of Pittsburgh following that flurry of action, and Chris Kunitz made the most of the situation a few minutes later with a goal.
- Much of the shortcomings of the power play can be traced directly to the subpar play of Crosby and Letang. Both players showed signs of breaking out of their funk in the latter stages of Game 3, but otherwise, both stars appear out-to-lunch for the majority of the series. Letang’s play is careless and mistake-ridden, as if he is devoid of any focus. Crosby appears to be hindered physically in some way – either by a lower-body injury or an illness, as he does not seem to be able to drive his legs to create separation against defenders.
- Pittsburgh looked to be poised to get the game’s first power play opportunity at the midpoint of the first period when Johnny Boychuck was called for interference. But post-whistle action landed Joe Vitale in the box along with him, negating the power play. On one hand, it may not have mattered because of the ineffectiveness of the power play anyway, as seen in hindsight. But on the other hand, the Penguins may have far better luck getting a power play goal with Boychuck or Zdeno Chara off the ice, neither of whom have yet put their team shorthanded in the series.
- Three of the six power plays for Pittsburgh offered them a chance to take their first lead of the series, including two chances in overtime that would have ended the game. Instead, the Penguins are 0-for-12 against Boston and are on the verge of elimination.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PENALTY KILL
Power Play Goals Allowed = 0
Power Play Opportunities = 5
Penalty Kill Percentage = 100%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 4
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Total Time Shorthanded: 10:00
Shorthanded Chances = 3 shots, 0 goals
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 6 of 10, 60.0%
- The Pittsburgh penalty kill was so strong in Game 3 that they almost had as many shots on the Boston net as they allowed on their own goal (4-3). All five of Boston’s power plays came in a situation where they could have regained the lead, and two of those came in the overtime with a chance to win it.
- The face-off statistics were strongly – and surprisingly – in favor of the Penguins for the first time this series, and those numbers held up just the same while the team was down a man. Brandon Sutter was particularly strong, winning 60% of his draws all night and picking up two big wins while shorthanded in overtime. Crosby was also used on the penalty kill, primarily for face-offs. Crosby recorded only 35 seconds of ice time while shorthanded but won three key face-offs in those situations. The first kill of the night was the only time the PK looked even remotely vulnerable in the game.
- Three players flooded the puck area to force a clear, but when they failed to get the puck out of the zone, they were then caught scrambling to get back into position. As needed in those moments, Tomas Vokoun made some good saves to restore order to the situation. Pittsburgh did a tremendous job at their defending blue line to force turnovers, disrupt zone entry, and generally slow down the Boston attack. The Bruins were only able to generate one power play shot off the rush, and this type of work prevented Boston from getting anywhere near the net on their third opportunity of the night.
- Letang made a costly turnover in Game 2 in trying to blindly clear the puck up the middle of the ice, and he repeated a similar mistake in Game 3. This one came in overtime, and fortunately for him, the team was able to survive the mistake this time. Sutter, Craig Adams, Paul Martin, and Douglas Murray got caught on an extended shift on the first kill of the overtime after they were unable to get the puck the full length of the ice. But they stuck to their system and adjusted to each other, showing no willingness to give in. That kind of commitment to each other and to their approach highlights why the penalty killing has been so effective in these playoffs.
- Pittsburgh has killed off 16-straight penalties in the post-season and continue to do yeoman’s work each and every time they take to the ice. They have managed to stay steady and focused despite all the disappointments happening around them. Perhaps this methodology should be the building block for the rest of the team, as they look to fight their way out of a deep hole.