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Shea-ved Ice: Gut Check Time For The Penguins

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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So apparently the wake up calls given in Games 2 and 3 weren’t enough for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The story in Game 4? More of the same.

Once again, constant turnovers, little to no sustained offensive pressure at 5-on-5 and shaky goaltending cost the Penguins.

The phone is still ringing for the Penguins, only this time its reality calling.

If the Penguins won’t answer the phone, I will because here’s the reality of the situation:

The Penguins are lucky they aren’t coming home down 3-1 in the series.

You have to give the Islanders credit. However,  it’s astonishing that the Penguins have not adjusted to combat what the Islanders are doing to generate truckloads of turnovers.

How many times did you notice a Penguins defenseman standing in his own zone looking up for a passing option, only to find there wasn’t one and at least one Islander coming after him hard? Personally, I lost count.

The forwards are doing absolutely nothing to support the defense on the breakout. As soon as a defenseman gets the puck, the forwards turn their skates up ice looking for a pass in the neutral zone. The way the Penguins are going to beat the full-court press of the Islanders is with short support passes.

Those same forwards need to be curling up ice at the circles instead of the blue line. It may not sound like much, but most of the turnovers are happening at the top of the circles along the boards. Even little give-and-go plays could work there, but it’s not a major adjustment to “their game.”

Quite simply, the Islanders have figured out how to beat the Penguins’ system. Much like the Canadiens did in 2010, the Lightning did in 2011 and the Flyers did a year ago.

The Pens’ outright refusal to adjust their game falls on the coaching staff and specifically Dan Bylsma. For the record, I think Bylsma is a great coach, but four straight years of this kind of frustration falls on him.

While I understand the idea behind keeping Crosby with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, keeping Jarome Iginla with Malkin is a complete waste of his talents – especially by making Iginla play his off wing.

Put him on the right side with Crosby and Pascal Dupuis and move Kunitz alongside Malkin and James Neal.

Yes, the Dupuis-Crosby-Kunitz line has been the most productive line in hockey, but Neal-Malkin-Kunitz was the most productive line in Crosby’s absence.

Speaking of frustration, where has the real Kris Letang been? You know, the one who is up for the Norris Trophy? Anyone remember him?

He’s the one who wouldn’t lead a rush up ice, get trapped and fish a puck out of his own net on the penalty kill. The one who forced turnovers to help fuel the Penguins’ transition game. The one who used his skating ability to create space for himself. The one who doesn’t make blind behind the back passes in his own zone.

That’s the Letang that the Penguins need right now.

What about Malkin?

In Game 3, he skated away from a chance to retaliate after being mauled in the corner by Travis Hamonic. Last night, the frustration boiled over after he got hit in the offensive zone trying to do too much with his head down. Instead of skating away, he grabbed on to Colin McDonald’s jersey crest and pulled him down in front of the referee. Lucky for him, McDonald was called for diving to even things up.

Side note: Don’t think for a second that the irony of the Islanders having the only diving penalty in the series is lost on me.

Later, Malkin turned the puck over to John Tavares along the far boards. Five seconds later, the puck was in the back of the net. It was also the game-winning goal. The sixth and final goal started with him being unable to handle a pass from Letang on his tape in the Islanders’ end. New York quickly turned the puck up ice and Casey Cizikas beat Matt Niskanen off the edge to the net and scored another one Marc-Andre Fleury would love to have back.

The thing is, it’s not as if Malkin is playing that poorly in this series. He’s got eight points (two goals, and six assists), but he has to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. Hurt them on the scoreboard – you know, where it really counts.

Speaking of Fleury, I’ve defended him every step of the way. I defended him last year, where it likely wouldn’t have mattered if the Penguins constructed a 4’ x 6’ brick wall along the goal line.

While the Penguins have done little to help their goaltender since Game 1, he can’t be giving up goals like Kyle Okposo’s from behind the goal line last night. Yes, Crosby was the only Penguin back and yes, Crosby spun Fleury out of position slightly by making contact with him as he went to challenge Okposo.

However, Fleury should have been able to swallow up Hamonic’s floater from the point that hit him squarely in the chest.

He also should have had the Cizikas goal and he knows it. We all know it.

A year ago, the Penguins had no choice but to let Fleury try and figure it out. That’s not the case this season.

I never thought I’d see myself come to this, but here’s why the Penguins should start Tomas Vokoun in Game 5.

Vokoun stole the show in the regular season series with a 3-0 record, 0.90 GAA and .970 save percentage in four appearances.

For his career, Vokoun is 17-7-1 with a 1.95 GAa and a .937 save percentage with five shutouts against the Islanders.

That’s why you start him.

If anything, maybe seeing Vokoun in there will serve as Bylsma’s way to wake up the team as if to say, “You’ve hung one goaltender out to dry for three games, don’t do it to another one.”

Maybe it will send the message that they need to change as a whole. Do the little things. Get pucks deep, grind down the defensemen and put pucks on net.

Rip Fleury all you want because he has deserved it at times, but Nabokov has been infinitely worse in this series. He looks rattled. He’s off his angles and has no rebound control to speak of. He’s made a couple of timely saves, but if he upgrades his play from poor to just decent, it’s a 3-1 lead for the Islanders in this series.

The bottom line is that the Penguins have some serious soul searching to do following Game 4. They have the benefit of coming home for Game 5, but if they don’t adjust quickly, this series will be very much in doubt.

They have the team to do it. They have the leadership to turn this around. It’s time for the veterans to stand up and rally the troops.

This is now a best-of-three series with two home games and a completely healthy roster. There are no excuses.

The phone is still ringing and reality is on the other end. It’s time for the Pens to answer.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice

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