GAME 4 PRE-GAME BUZZ
The New York Rangers were the team in Game 3 that made the needed adjustments, countering the Penguins with strategic cross-ice dump in’s on the forecheck, which played a big factor in the Penguins struggling to make clean entries out of the defensive zone.
Instead of attacking the Penguins from the strong side in Game 2, New York would send the weak side winger hard down the ice and they had excellent placement when putting pucks deep and by the time a Penguins d-man had to turn and retrieve the puck, the Rangers had immediate pressure.
The Rangers speed advantage didn’t just cause the Penguins trouble in the defensive zone through forty minutes. New York’s commitment to the neutral zone with excellent back pressure and swarming the Penguins with pressure to halt any momentum through the neutral zone is something that can’t get overlooked on how the Rangers were able to dictate the play so much in the first two periods.
The third and fourth wave of the Penguins adjusting to teams that have adjusted to them hasn’t been a strong suit of this coaching staff.
The Penguins cannot match the Rangers speed and if the Rangers bring the same commitment on the back check that they brought in game 3 but not games 1, 2, Pittsburgh has to counter them by being smarter when putting pucks in deep.
Alain Vigneault made the needed adjustments for Game 3, now we see tonight what Mike Johnston is made of. Johnston did not coach a smart game Monday night, failing to get Sidney Crosby away from McDonagh, Staal and Girardi, and an unwillingness to shorten the bench late and get the proper puck moving defensemen out with their top two lines.
The Rangers were excellent Monday with soft dump in’s vs Pittsburgh and the Penguins need to take a page from their playbook. They can’t get caught over stick handling in the neutral zone as the Rangers swarm with pressure. Pittsburgh’s best hope tonight to create more sustained offense is making soft chip in’s into the corners, not behind the net, and establishing a cycle.
The Rangers D are not blessed with Kris Letang type speed. They are vulnerable when they have to turn and retrieve pucks quickly. The key to being a good forechecking team is placement when dumping the puck in. That’s still a work in progress for the Penguins as they are often plagued with poor placement.
The odds for the Penguins getting consistent offensive zone entries is stacked against them in this matchup and that’s been the case for six of the nine periods so far. Most of their offense is going to have to come off the forecheck.
Former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish is doing some commentary for NHL.com and he makes a great point in that the Crosby line is about the only line that can get away with over-carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Malkin who will play with Blake Comeau and David Perron tonight, has to become more of a cycle line tonight.
For the Penguins they can go into this game with a forecheckers mindset but it all comes down to placement.
— All eyes are going to be on the Penguins battle level to start the game. They have come out in all three games with a conservative, lack of energy approach, though, a faster opponent can play a factor in that. “I think we can come with a more assertive approach tonight,” Mike Johnston said moments ago.
— Scott Wilson will stay in the lineup over Beau Bennett who stayed out again with the scratches.
Wilson didn’t provide much of anything from an energy standpoint in Game 3 but Johnston likes the poise he showed when he got the puck in the offensive zone.
“For Scott and really we’re talking to John Hynes a lot about Scott, he plays a very direct game,” Johnston said. “Very competitive player. As you saw the other night, he had some poise with the puck. He can score”
— How bad has Daniel Winnik been through three games? Here’s his Score Adjusted Fenwik, via Ryan Wilson of HockeyBuzz.
— Derrick Pouliot is very close to playing, Johnston said, but the Penguins will stick with the current pairs for now.