MORNING PENS BUZZ
The Penguins dropping three of their last four games, continue to express frustrations over their struggles defensively. With the goaltending starting to take a step back in the past few games, issues defensively that have been there for the past six to seven games are starting to catch up.
“We didn’t do a lot of good things and paid for it again,” captain Sidney Crosby said on the Penguins 5-3 to the Islanders Thursday night. “We made some mistakes and they capitalized on it.”
A blueprint on how to attack the Penguins offensively is out there. Establishing a strong cycle in the offensive zone and spacing the Penguins out has been a prominent way to exploit the Penguins defensively of late.
The Senators did it very well against Pittsburgh last Saturday night and New York did again Thursday night.
A big issue (but fixable) emerging for the Penguins has been their forwards in the defensive zone getting caught watching the puck carrier and losing a player in space coming down the slot.
Kyle Okposo’s third period goal was a prime example of that, as was the Sergei Gonchar’s goal last Saturday night in Ottawa’s 8-4 win.
On the Okposo goal, the Penguins lose track of Okposo who carries the puck deep into the Penguins zone down the right side and around the net, cycling the puck around theÂ left boards where the Islanders work the puck down low…….At that point the Penguins have good man to man coverage as Paul Martin is in 1-on-1 coverage with Okposo but when Okposo cycles the puck down low and ventures towards the blueline, Martin does the rightÂ thing and goes back down low to defend the cycle.
Where the breakdown exists for the Penguins is a forward losing track of Okposo who comes down from the blueline to the slot……Jordan Staal covering the middle of the ice, gets caught watching the puck carrier as does Matt Cooke and neither player see’s Okposo coming down the slot who puts home a nice feed from Josh Bailey to give the Islanders a 4-1 lead.
This has been a common defensive lapse for the Penguins and Root Sports analyst Bob Errey said it best on the goal. “Everybody in white is focused on the puck, ” Errey said.
BYLSMA USES LIKELY PLAYOFF LINES
Despite the success of the Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal line, It was only a matter of time before head coach Dan Bylsma reunited Kunitz and Sidney Crosby.
Bylsma Thursday night went to his regular three lines that he’s fully expected to use come playoff time., using Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis, Sullivan – Malkin – Neal, and Cooke – Staal – Kennedy.
“I think Evgeni with James Neal and Steve Sullivan can be very effective line at both ends of the rink against any group, ” Bylsma said. “Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis can be a top line in the league with way they play. Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy can be on the ice and play against any other line in the league and we know what we can get from those three lines, ” Bylsma said.
POWER PLAY WOES
The Penguins were 0-for-4 on the power play against the Islanders and are now 4-for-48 (8.3%) on the power play in their last 15 games. Since Sidney Crosby’s returned, the Penguins are 3-for-28.
The penalty kill has also taken a step back. The team has killed off just 16 of their last 22 power plays against. A mark of just 73%.
***After a strong focus coming from the coaching staff on the Penguins not thinking offense all the time, a feeling out of last night’s game was the Penguins were maybe too passive, most notably early on in the game. “I don’t think we were producing enough offensively, ” Sidney Crosby said.
***Many saw last night’s game as a response game for the Penguins but that didn’t happen. “We talked about it a lot, ” Jordan Staal said. “We expected it from the guys to have a better effort and it just wasn’t there. We have to find ways to get back on track and it’s going to take everyone in the room.”
*** Head coach Dan Blysma was among those who didn’t see a strong response from his hockey club and Bylsma wasn’t shy about pointing out the Penguins special teams struggles. “I didn’t see a lot of response in the way we played, ” Bylsma said. “We certainly lost in the special teams portion of the game. Both, the power play goal [Against}and our power play not really executing and adding way we need it and timely goals against.”
***Pittsburgh’s loss now has them trailing the New York Rangers by five points with no game in hand and they hold just a two point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 4 seed. “We’re in Buffalo (Friday Night), and we have big games with Philly, New York, Boston and Philly again,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on the Penguins upcoming tough stretch of games. “We’re going to try to win every one of those games.”
“We gotta worry about our game, ” Jordan Staal said on the top seed looking unlikely. “Standings will be the standings. Right now we’re not playing our best hockey and we’re losing games.”
EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS
1. New York Rangers (49-21-7, 105 pts)
2. Boston Bruins (45-28-4, 94 pts)
3. Florida Panthers (37-24-16, 90 pts)
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (47-24-6, 100 pts)
5. Philadelphia Flyers (45-24-8, 98 pts)
6. New Jersey Devils (44-28-6, 94 pts)
7. Ottawa Senators (39-28-10, 88 pts)
8. Buffalo Sabres (38-29-10, 86 pts)
9. Washington Capitals (39-31-8, 86 pts)