Depending upon who you talk to, the sky is finally about to fall on a hockey team that was destined for failure, or Game 2 will simply be known as the game the Penguins conceded en route to eliminating the Blue Jackets in five. Whatever happens from here, who knows? All we can really speak to is where the Penguins stand right now. They could have easily dropped Game 1 had it not been for the spectacular goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, and in Game 2, he and Jaromir Gibbons were the only reasons it was even close. Dropkicking anyone who says otherwise about Fleury right now should be legal in all 50 states, Canada, and Mexico.
Despite the series being tied 1-1, and the understanding that the Penguins are a much more talented team than Columbus, there are plenty of causes for concern.
First, the shorthanded goals against. Two already in this playoff, but it’s not just a problem this year. There have now a been a total of seven goals scored while the Penguins have the man advantage in the last three playoff series combined (23 games). Of those seven goals, five came while the Pens were deploying 4 forwards and only 1 defenseman.
Although the power play going 1-for-8 killed the Pens in Game 2, it historically has been a strong point of this team in the playoffs (25 PP goals in the last 23 games). However, the risk of using 4 forwards on the power play is continuously catching up to coach Dan Bylsma. Even if Bylsma keeps Kris Letang off the top-unit, there is still Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, and Olli Maatta as viable options at the point. Whoever he uses there, the 4-forward model needs to go.
Then, there’s Crosby and Malkin. Anyone saying the best two players on this team need to produce more is absolutely correct.
We’ll start with Crosby. He has only one goal in his last nine playoff games, and only two points total while at 5-on-5. On the bright side, he is facing the stiffest competition Columbus has to offer, and the Pens are still controlling possession while he’s on the ice, but 78.9% of his shifts are starting in the offensive/neutral zone.
And it’s a similar situation with Malkin. He has just two goals in his last 13 playoff games, and only two even-strength points in his last nine. That’s not good. In this series, the Pens are a +15 in even strength shot attempts while Malkin is on the ice, however 86.1% of his shifts have started in the offensive or neutral zone.
There is still plenty of time for them to make an impact, and we have every reason to believe that they will, but right now there just has to be results, period.
Also, all of these favorable zone starts for Crosby and Malkin mean somebody has to be taking the tough faceoffs, right?
Sutter still holding it down with one faceoff in the offensive zone tonight. That’s 2 for the series if you’re keeping track at home.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 20, 2014
Two offensive zone starts in two games. Two. Much respect to any offense Sutter provides if this trend continues. This further reiterates the statement that Crosby and Malkin need to get going.
Then there’s Letang. We don’t need to talk anymore about the composure stuff, repeating yourself gets old and it just is what it is with him. Still, his overall performance this postseason has been horrifying. Only 20.6% of his shifts have started in the defensive zone (fewest d-zone starts among defensemen), yet the Pens are a -13 at 5-on-5 shot attempts while Letang is on the ice. In regards to puck possession as a whole, the Pens are at their absolute worst right now while Letang is on the ice, and it isn’t even close.
If you only trust Tanner Glass and Craig Adams to play 11 minutes in an 81-minute game then they shouldn’t be in the lineup.
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) April 20, 2014
Not sure if it’s Craig Adams or his ghost that we’re seeing out there, but if it takes an exorcism to get him out of the starting lineup we’d support it.
Penguins got their buttocks handed to them on special team faceoffs. 3-for-14 (21%) on PP faceoffs, 4-for-12 (33%) on PK. Ouch.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 20, 2014
For the series the Pens are at 49.7% on faceoffs, which isn’t awful, but they clearly lost the most important draws in Game 2 –something they will absolutely need to improve on in Game 3.
It can’t be all bad news here. Again, let’s remember that it is a 1-1 series and a win in Game 3 puts control of the series squarely back in Pittsburgh’s corner. And perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is how good Marc-Andre Fleury has been thus far –his 96.3% even strength save percentage confirms that.
But perhaps the biggest indication that anyone excessively overreacting should step back from the ledge…
Yes I am a Penquins fan. Since 1998, met Jagr and Ron Francis prepping for Mystery Alaska.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) April 20, 2014
Bad luck Penguins. Thanks for having me.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) April 20, 2014
If Russell Crowe is a Pens fan, and he’s calm, then you should be calm too.