Down 0-2 and heading to Boston is the nightmare scenario many didn’t think the Penguins would be in during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Well, that’s exactly where the Penguins find themselves as the series now shifts to Boston for the next two games.
Every Stanley Cup champion has faced adversity along the way. It’s how the leaders on those teams handled the adversity and then, overcame it.
Right now, leadership is a big problem with the Penguins.
I’m not just talking about Sidney Crosby here. Ray Shero went out and acquired two other well-respected leaders at the trade deadline. It’s time for Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla to step up to help rally the troops.
Morrow and Iginla may not get another shot to get their names on the Stanley Cup. Iginla chose Pittsburgh over Boston when presented the option for a reason. Time is running out on their careers to claim hockey’s ultimate prize.
One of the goals in acquiring those two players was to add some grit and scoring punch to an already offensively loaded roster. However, the main goal was to add a veteran presence to the locker room. This kind of situation is where they need to lead by example both on and off the ice to accomplish something that has not been done since the current playoff format was adopted in 1993-94.
That which has not been accomplished? Teams that trail 0-2 in the Conference Finals are a combined 0-16.
This isn’t all on Morrow and Iginla, by any means. As I said, part of this is on Crosby as well.
Crosby has been targeted by the Bruins through the first two games and for good reason. Most of his minutes have come against Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron and it’s clearly having an effect. He’s visibly frustrated, took a couple of bad penalties in Game 1 and was completely out of sorts for most of Game 2.
Quite simply, he’s trying to lead by scoring a big goal, but he’s gripping the stick too tight. While he can certainly make highlight reel plays at will at times, the Bruins aren’t having any of it right now. Crosby needs to take a breath and just simplify his game.
A prime example came when he took the risky option while trying to hold a puck in at the blue line, which led to Boston’s first goal of Game 2.
Rather than getting his body in the way, he opted to try and knock the bouncing puck down with his stick and only got a piece of it. Because he was standing still, he had no chance to catch Brad Marchand, who then scored on a breakaway.
In the second period, his line finally got sustained zone time and had the Bruins on their heels. Rather than make a simple pass to keep the cycle going, he attempted a behind the back, blind backhand pass, which was picked off and allowed the Bruins to get a line change they desperately needed.
It’s the simple plays that are going to beat the Bruins. They’re clogging the neutral zone and taking away any fancy east-west options the Penguins want to try. By default, they are also taking away the long stretch passes.
As was the problem in the opening round series against the Islanders, the Penguins’ breakout has been sloppy and ineffective. However, unlike the Islanders, it’s not because of Boston’s forecheck. It’s because the Penguins are trying to do too much.
The Penguins should look at how the Bruins have escaped their forecheck on the breakout. It’s all about short support passes. The forwards need to give the defensemen an outlet or at least an option instead of flying the zone looking for the home run pass.
Boston is simply too good defensively to try half the stuff the Penguins were able to get away with against the Senators or even the Islanders.
They need to be putting pucks behind the defensemen and making them pay a price for going back to retrieve it. Hit the blue line with speed so that an effective forecheck can be executed as opposed to letting the first man back have a free ride to start the breakout.
It’s the lack of attention to detail that has resulted in the Penguins only scoring one goal in this series. It’s also the reason both Pittsburgh goaltenders were left out on a clothesline to dry in Game 2.
Defensemen need to be better aware of their surroundings in their own zone and the situations in which they join the rush or pinch along the wall in the offensive end.
Specifically, Kris Letang needs to remember why he is a Norris Trophy finalist this season.
Game 2 was arguably the worst game of Letang’s career in Pittsburgh and that’s not the first time I’ve uttered those words in these playoffs.
Normally, I don’t put a lot of faith in the plus/minus statistic, but he was every bit of the minus-three rating he earned in Game 2. The most egregious error came on the second goal of the game for the Bruins.
Letang attempted to fire a pass from below the goal line right up the middle of the ice. Naturally, it was picked off at the blue line and the Bruins cashed in on a rebound.
That kind of pass lands you on the bench in Pee Wee hockey.
Letang has to be smarter with the puck in those situations. Sometimes the easy play is the smart play and against this Bruins team, it almost always will be.
Pucks need to get to the net and bodies need to be crashing for rebounds. Tuukka Rask has had too easy a time in this series. He’s a very good goaltender, but he has only been called upon to make a couple of key saves.
The Penguins are more than capable of coming back in this series. At some point, enough has to be enough for them to wake up and get back to playing Penguin hockey.
If that sounds like a line from a Dan Bylsma press conference, it is and he’s another one who needs to lead as well.
Adjustments need to be made for Game 3 – clearly. Boston is capitalizing off mistakes and the Penguins have been far too guilty of to making them.
I’m also fairly certain Bylsma was pulling names randomly out of a hat on the bench based on the amount of different line combinations we saw in Game 2. Whether it was his way of trying to find a spark with a previously unknown combination or not, only he knows.
Regardless, adjustments were made when things started to look bleak in the Islanders series. The time to adjust is once again upon the Penguins and it’s up to Bylsma to identify those changes and implement them.
Again, it’s all about leadership.
The leaders in the room need to take control of this situation in order to turn this series around. If the Penguins continue to get wrapped up in the frustration that comes from playing against a team like the Bruins, this will be over quick.
The Penguins have yet to play anything close to their best and can ill-afford to wait any longer.
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