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Insider Only Playoff Analysis: Breaking down the Penguins play on special teams in Game 4

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PLAYOFF ANALYSIS

SPECIAL TEAMS
ROUND 1, GAME 4
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com

For the first time in the series, Pittsburgh lost the special teams battle in Game 4. This was despite having power-play ace James Neal back in the line-up, the addition of Brooks Orpik to the penalty kill, and an improved game from defensive forward Brandon Sutter. But a large reason for the deficit was the disparity in power-play opportunities.
The Penguins power play only took to the ice twice, whereas the Islanders got four cracks at it. Pittsburgh took too many badly-timed penalties – a recurring theme over the past three games – and New York, on the other hand, adjusted into a more-disciplined game after getting burned by the Pittsburgh power play in Game 3.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS POWER PLAY
Power Play Goals = 0
Power Play Opportunities = 2
Power Play Percentage = 0%
Power Play Shots = 2
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 0 shots allowed, 0 goals against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 4:00
Power Play Faceoffs = 3 of 5, 60%
Primary 1st unit = Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz, Iginla
Primary 2nd unit = Neal, Martin, Morrow, Niskanen, Jokinen
Power Play Goal Scorers = none
Analysis:
The Penguins were 1-for-4 on the PP in Game 2, their other loss in the series. That was the only time they have gone three-straight power plays without converting in this series, as they scored on their maiden opportunity that night and failed the rest of the way. Game 4 could have played out much differently had Pittsburgh converted on one of their two chances with the man advantage, or more likely, had gotten to that magical third chance. Credit the New York Islanders on that for staying out of the box, as NYI had already taken three rounds of power plays before Pittsburgh got their first attempt. The Penguins are going to need to draw more penalties and treat each opportunity with a little more urgency in order to restore their edge in this area.
Game 4 was the first time the Penguins was ever able to employ the line-up they did. Injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin, and then to Neal and Orpik in the playoffs overlapped with the acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and Douglas Murray. With everyone finally healthy enough to play, Pittsburgh was able to put their full contingent of players on the ice. There was talk that the depth and talent on the roster would call for Dan Bylsma to utilize two balanced power-play units. However, we did not see this attempted in Game 4. In fact, a full second unit never even touched the ice together.
The return of Neal posed questions as to what changes may happen with the top unit. Chris Kunitz would have been a candidate to get bumped off that squad, but his two PPGs in Game 3 made that move irrational. Iginla had slid down to the second unit for portions of Game 3, but his powerful, right-handed shot is difficult to replace without a complete overhaul to the structure of the top unit. So in the end, Bylsma chose to make no significant changes in personnel. Kunitz and Letang ran a shorter shift than the others on the first power play of the game, sending Neal and Martin over the boards to join the trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Iginla. That trio actually stayed out for the duration of the advantage.
The personnel were altered slightly on the second power play opportunity, mainly due to who was fresh. A group consisting of Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, Letang, and Martin ran much of the time after Crosby and Iginla came off the ice early. Crosby returned for the final 20 seconds, skating with Martin, Niskanen, Morrow, and Jokinen. That group was able to get set and then generated a good shot from Martin as the penalty expired.
Overall, the primary unit on the ice – regardless of its members – supplied some pressure and won a lot of battles for loose pucks, but they slipped back into an ad-lib configuration instead of the set structure that was more effective earlier in the series. Malkin was much more active again, which always seems to force players into different areas. At one point, Malkin ended up on the left side, and Crosby found himself at the point before migrating to the front of the net. The creative abilities of those players allow for some improvisation, but the overall skills coming from five different players calls for the group to get back to a known game plan again.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PENALTY KILL
Power Play Goals Allowed = 1
Power Play Opportunities = 4
Penalty Kill Percentage = 75%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 4
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 1 shot, 0 goals
Minutes of Shorthanded Time = 6:31
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 3 of 6, 50%
Analysis:
The officiating is not doing many favors for the Penguins, but a general demonstration of undisciplined play has created a poor reputation for Pittsburgh, and in particular, Matt Cooke. In Game 1, the Pens only went down a man one time in the first half of the game, allowing them to build up a 5-0 lead by the time the needed to execute another penalty kill. Because of that, the Islanders were never able to establish any momentum. But since that game, early penalties by Pittsburgh have infused more life into a re-energized Islanders team. Despite Pittsburgh’s stellar work on the penalty kill, the momentum gained by the Islanders has helped them get in the game early. Additionally, the Penguins have been unable to establish a consistent attack across all four lines because of interruptions by penalties and subsequent adjustments because of fresh and available personnel.
Both sides showed very good intensity and aggressiveness on all of the Islanders’ power plays. The Penguins got back to applying pressure up the ice on the forecheck while still standing strong at their own blue line. This approach created several turnovers and full-ice clears. The pressure applied by the Penguins in the New York zone kept the Islanders largely to the perimeter and eliminated any good scoring chances from inside the house.
The play of Craig Adams was exceptionally good in Game 4. He has clearly established himself as the top penalty-killer on the team and continues to earn that spot every shift. He won face-offs, blocked shots, and pestered the puck any time he was in the vicinity. Adams skated 4:21 while his team was down a man, easily the most of any Penguins player.
After being invisible for much of the first three games in the series, Sutter finally started to return to his regular-season form in Game 4. He was much more effective on the penalty-kill and therefore was rewarded with more ice time in that area and at even-strength, where he added his first career playoff goal.
The penalty to Cooke for interfering with Evgeni Nabokov was a poor call, but as mentioned, Cooke’s reputation was a major contributor to the play. After seeming like he has cleaned up his act for the past two seasons, Cooke has taken six penalties for 12 minutes in this series, which puts him well ahead of his pace in the regular season (36 PIMs in 48 games). The interference penalty resulted in the Islanders finally getting another power play goal in the series.
The power-play goal, however, falls more on the shoulders of Marc-Andre Fleury. It appeared Matt Moulson first interfered with Orpik, which resulted in a failed clearing attempt off the stick of Orpik. Orpik was then on the ice at the edge of the crease, which may have made Fleury concerned about tripping over him. Fleury’s movement across the crease was very awkward, as he never got his feet in a good place. So he never had a chance at the incoming shot, which was originally credited to Mark Streit, later changed to John Tavares on the tip, then switched back to Streit when Tavares stated he never touched it. The main problem, of course, was that Fleury never touched it either.
One final note the penalty killing in this game was that Crosby was given a full shift on the PK during the first Islanders power play. He was not used again in such a situation later in the game, but this move does show the Penguins are so confident in their PK work that they have no hesitation to plug Crosby in there to add yet another dimension to their penalty killing.
SPECIAL TEAMS SUMMARY
The special teams units of the Penguins continue to look very strong, despite the Islanders getting the only man-advantage goal in the game. That goal bumps NYI to just 2-for-15 in the series, though. So the real issue is that Pittsburgh needs to position themselves to get more power play chances while, most importantly, cutting down on chances they hand to the Islanders at crucial moments of the game.
In the two games the Penguins have won in the series, the special-teams game was strongly in their favor. In the two games they have lost in the series, the special teams had little impact overall in deciding the outcome. As it has now been reduced to just a best-of-three contest, special teams will loom that much more largely in determining which team will advance to the next challenge.

COMPOSITE SERIES STATISTICS (through 4 games)
Power Play Goals = 6
Power Play Opportunities = 15
Power Play Percentage = 40.0%
Power Play Shots = 24
5-on-3 Situations = 2 opportunities, 1 goal, 1 shot
Shorthanded Chances Allowed = 2 shots, 1 goal against
Minutes of Power Play Time = 22:14 (3:40 per PPG)
Power Play Faceoffs = 21 of 32, 65.6%
Power Play Goals Allowed = 2
Power Play Opportunities = 15
Penalty Kill Percentage = 86.7%
Power Play Shots Allowed = 20
5-on-3 Situations = 0 opportunities, 0 goals, 0 shots
Shorthanded Chances = 2 shots, 0 goals
Minutes of Shorthanded Time = 26:39 (13:20 per PPG)
Shorthanded Faceoffs = 14 of 26, 53.8%

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Dave Fryer

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