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Insider Only X’s & O’s: Examining Pens PK woes vs Flyers, Couturier vs Crosby, Net-front, speed presence from Pens

photo (4)PENS – FLYERS X’S AND 0’S
In Sunday’s 4-3 loss, the Penguins continued to have no answers for the Flyers power play as Philadelphia went 2-4 on the power play and added a shorthanded goal in the win.
“Last two days, especially today, special teams, {Philadelphia’s} was really good and our’s wasn’t,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
The Penguins issues today was the structure of the PK, especially on Wayne Simmonds second power play goal of the game at 13:47 of the first period to put the Flyers up 3-0.
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The jam down low goal was a blown coverage by Rob Scuderi. As the overhead replay shows, Scuderi lost complete track of  Simmonds down low on the goal line. The Flyers had the setup isolated to the left side with the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick. From here the Flyers like to explore two primary options:
1. A jam play down low to Simmonds or | 2. Giroux is patient, spaces the penalty kill out and gets Hartnell to open up for a one-timer in the slot.
Pittsburgh got burned on the second option in Saturday’s 4-0 loss where Hartnell blistered a one-timer past Fleury for a power play goal. On that goal, Orpik and Scuderi were also on the ice but on opposite sides. The Penguins defended the play okay, Tanner Glass was a split second late on the rotation and Hartnell just beat Fleury with a great shot.
Today Giroux exploited the Penguins PK with option one, a quick pass down low to Simmonds for the goal in front. Scuderi out of position, was in no man’s land as Simmons had time to catch the puck on his forehand than turn and get two whacks at it before putting the puck behind Fleury for the goal.
 What stands out with this blown coverage is that the jam play down low to Simmonds was also there all day in Saturday’s  game for the Flyers on the power play. Pittsburgh never adjusted today.
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“They’ve had that same setup for three years now,” Matt Niskanen said of the Penguins PK struggles this weekend vs Flyers. “Same personnel, do same things. It’s effective. They have a lot of options……Jam play down low.”
Dan Bylsma is a good hockey coach. Let’s get that out of the way. Bylsma, though, like a lot of coaches has his faults. One of Bylsma’s achilles heel is his arrogance that for instance Sidney Crosby doesn’t need to avoid tough matchups.
Bylsma is not a believer in matchups when it comes to his top two centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma to no surprise made little effort to get Crosby away from Philadelphia’s top defensive center Sean Couturier. Crosby was again pointless and had just 3 shots on goal.
This quote from Flyers coach Craig Berube about getting the matchups he wanted at even strength despite being the road team is telling.
“I had that matchup the whole game,” Berube said of matching Sean Couturier vs Sidney Crosby. “I started Giroux, he {Dan Bylsma} started Crosby and I came back with Couturier after that. He {Sean Couturier} was against him {Sidney Crosby} most of the game. For most part I had Couturier on Crosby and Giroux on Malkin for the most part,” Berube said.

The Penguins didn’t make life tough enough on Flyers goaltender Steve Mason during the home and home series, especially Saturday.
But, what got them back into the game Sunday was starting to get traffic in front of the net and using their speed through the neutral zone.

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On Brooks Orpik’s first period goal on a shot from the point at 17:33 to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 3-1, Evgeni Malkin out muscled Luke Schenn for a puck down low, got the puck to the point and Jussi Jokinen provided a great screen in front while Joe Vitale was also in around the net.
Speed and causing traffic would be a factor for the Penguins on their second goal of the game, a Matt Niskanen slap shot goal at 5:50 of the second period to get the Penguins within one goal at 3-2.
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Joe Vitale who had a strong game beat Andrew MacDonald to the puck on the forecheck, and then went right to the front of the net to get position on MacDonald and cause a screen in front of Mason as  Niskanen’s blasted one from the point.
The Penguins would later make it a one goal game again on a goal from Jason Megna off a 2-on-1 finish from Brian Gibbons.

Leading to the 2-on-1 rush, Megna goal, was one of the rare times the Penguins trapped and ran the left wing lock effectively this weekend as Gibbons created a turnover in the neutral zone and then quickly went the other way leading to the goal.
The Penguins don’t have the personnel to play a heavy, grinding type of game come post-season time that wins in today’s NHL, but based on how they are constructed, the Penguins best route might be to roll the dice with smaller speed guys in the bottom-6 and just attack teams with speed.
That would mean playing the likes of Brian Gibbons, Jason Megna and Joe Vitale over others when this group is healthy. Not going to happen but might be the Penguins best way to attack teams.

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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