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Insider Only Penguins – Rangers: Sullivan, staff identify where adjustments need to be made

Penguins – Rangers Series Buzz

The New York Rangers coming off a convincing 4-2 win in Game 2 now have what should be momentum with the series shifting to Madison Square Garden tonight for Game 3.

Whether momentum actually exists in a series this early is up for debate.

The pressure, though, is not on Pittsburgh tonight, it’s on New York to hold serve at home as a best-of-seven series is now a best-of-five with New York having home-ice advantage.

A Rangers Game 3 win still won’t have them taking control of the series but the noise will start to be quite loud in Penguin circles that the team could be headed towards another early round exit.

Post-Stanley Cup, the Penguins’ have had in trouble of handling the status of being a favorite in a playoff series in the Sidney Crosby era. Since the 2010 playoffs, there’s only been one series where the Penguins were an underdog in and that was last season vs the President Trophy winning Rangers.

Despite only three points separating the Penguins and Rangers this season, not to mention New York winning 25 playoff games to Pittsburgh’s 9 since the 2014 post-season, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has gone out of his way multiple times so far in the series of talking the Penguins up as a heavy favorite in this series.

He was at it again on Monday, even indicating that if Mike Sullivan had been the coach all season, the Penguins might have been where the Capitals were. Quite the endorsement for former coach Mike Johnston.

“Going down 2-0 would not have been a good idea. That sort of raised urgency, emotion. Our guys have to understand by now we’re playing against the best team in the league since Christmas and if Mike [Sullivan] would have been their [coach] since Day 1, there’s a chance they would have challenged Washington for the top spot. They have four lines and group of defenseman who are quite a challenge.”

The key area for the Penguins to watch tonight is imposing their will 5 v 5. The longer this series plays outs with the Rangers dictating the pace at even strength and forcing the Penguins into an east-west game that is limiting the Penguin stars’ time and space, the greater the chances are of Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers upsetting the Penguins.

Why type of adjustments need to happen for the Penguins tonight?

A big emphasis from the Penguins’ coaching staff is having the ‘D’ get to pucks quicker in the defensive zone to avoid the Rangers’ first wave on the forecheck. It will be interesting if the Penguins ‘D’ play a bit deeper tonight with lower support down low from the forwards to beat that first wave.

The Penguins have been so much more dangerous under Mike Sullivan because of how high the forwards now play but the Penguins’ hands could be forced here in the forwards needing to play a bit lower in the defensive zone so the ‘D’ can make a quick chip or pass to allude the F1.

“We gotta get back to pucks quicker,” Sullivan said after Monday’s practice. “We might have to simplify our execution coming of out the zone. For me, I think when our team’s at its best, we don’t have to go back for as many pucks because our team defense starts in the offensive zone by controlling territory, by a puck pursuit game that’s relentless in forcing teams to have to come through four or five of us to get to us. I think that’s an area of our game where we have to improve in this series. I think we were decent in Game 1. I don’t think we were as good in Game 2. That’s an area where we have to improve. I think it will take some pressure of our defensemen if we can establish that game.”

What Sullivan alluded to Monday is the Penguins are playing an East-West game, something that doesn’t suit their personnel or style. That can seen with the Penguins struggles through the neutral zone.

“We played a lot more [of an] east-west game,” Sullivan said. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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