The Pittsburgh Penguins squandered a 3-1 lead en route to a 4-3 double overtime loss in Game 2 of their playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With the series tied 1-1 and shifting to Columbus for the next two games, the Penguins’ big guns need to start contributing – immediately.
Secondary scoring has been an issue with this team for much of the season. However, through the first two games of the series, those are the only guys to have lit the lamp.
You need secondary scoring to win the Stanley Cup. It’s such an important factor, but secondary scoring alone will not get you to the Promised Land.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, the Penguins have scored seven goals in two games. Here are the goal scorers:
Matt Niskanen – 2
Brian Gibbons – 2
Beau Bennett – 1
Brandon Sutter – 1
Jussi Jokinen – 1
Anything seem odd about that list?
If not, it should.
The Penguins’ top four goal scorers from the regular season are absent from that list.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz have combined for a grand total of 30 shots on net. As a team, the Penguins have 74 shots in the series.
Furthermore, of those 30 shots, only nine have come on the power play.
Speaking of which, the Penguins are continuing to live and die by the power play. It’s been especially apparent down the stretch to the playoffs. The first two games of this series just serve as a microcosm:
- In Game 1, the Penguins were 2-for-3 on the power play. They win 4-3.
- In Game 2, The Penguins were 1-for- 8 on the power play, including two chances in the first overtime. They lose 4-3.
Pittsburgh has also been victimized by two shorthanded goals against in the series.
So, what was the problem with the power play in Game 2?
“I think just execution. We’re not creating enough consistently. Either we’re not entering well or forcing things when we do get set up. So, that’s an area we definitely need to improve in. Special teams are huge in the playoffs,” Crosby said after the game.
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. When the power play has struggled this season, these have been the reasons.
They continue to look for the pretty, highlight reel play that isn’t going to be there often in the playoffs.
Look at their three power play goals in the series. It’s pretty simple stuff: Traffic in front, plus a shot on target, equals goals.
I promise you, this isn’t rocket science.
Anyway, it’s not as if the Penguins’ stars aren’t getting chances. They’re just not burying them. At all. Not even once.
Of those previously mentioned four stars, only Crosby (3 assists) and Malkin (2 assists) have recorded a point in the series. That’s contributing to a small degree considering the following:
Each only have one assist at even strength.
Honestly, the only times I’ve really even noticed Crosby on the ice is when Brandon Dubinsky is either spearing him in the groin or mugging him in the corners. To Crosby’s credit, he hasn’t taken a selfish retaliation penalty.
However, Game 2 was one of the worst games I can remember him playing. There were many uncharacteristic giveaways and ill-advised passes. He was credited with giving the puck away four times last night, but I think that may be a little generous.
As a team, the Penguins were credited with 13 giveaways. Columbus had a total of three.
If the Jackets are electing to take Crosby out of the equation, then it’s up to Malkin to pick up the slack. It’s not like he hasn’t performed such a feat in the past. Anyone remember 2009?
So, have any of the Penguins’ star players shown up in the series?
Marc-Andre Fleury has done so emphatically.
Yes, he’s allowed seven goals in two games. However, I’d be real hard-pressed to say any goal has been his fault. If not for him, Game 2 could have been a laugher in favor of the Blue Jackets.
He’s shown no signs of the shaky goalie we’ve seen the last two springs. He looks locked in, calm and focused. He’s been quiet, but aggressive when needed and helped to lock down Game 1 with a couple of solid saves.
It’s a shame that the Penguins have wasted some incredible performances by Fleury over the last month and again in Game 2. On the game-winner alone last night, he made two great saves while Jokinen, Kris Letang and Lee Stempniak stared on with cement in their skates.
At some point, you need to help out your goaltender. Other examples would be the two shorthanded goals against. One was a breakaway after a horrific turnover by Letang and the other was a 3-on-1.
Both of those scenarios should not happen while you’re on the power play.
While it’s remarkable that Letang has returned to this team so quickly after suffering a stroke only a couple of months ago, he’s simply not cutting it either.
Too many turnovers, too many passed up shooting opportunities and too many ill-advised penalties have cost his team.
He’s already been relegated to the bench in Game 1 and been moved to the second power play unit. At this point, I’d give a long hard look at leaving him in the press box for Game 3. I’m completely serious. If he’s being a detriment to the team, he doesn’t need to be in the lineup.
Watch: Dan Bylsma Post-Game Press Conference
The Penguins sat Olli Maatta on a couple of occasions this season and look how well that worked.
His inability to get pucks to the net has resulted in only one shot on net in the series. There was a sequence last night that went as follows:
Letang’s shot from the point is blocked into the crowd. Pens win the faceoff back to Letang, whose shot is blocked into the crowd.
It was instant déjà vu and that’s not even taking into consideration how many times he double-clutches and then still gets his shots blocked. He simply needs to be better in this regard.
Look at Matt Niskanen for example. He puts his head down and unloads without hesitation. He has two goals and two assists in the series. Pretty simple right?
Changes definitely need to be made ahead of Game 3 Monday night. If the team that showed up in the first period of Game 2 shows up for 60 minutes, the Penguins stand a good chance to take the series.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Penguins dropped Game 2 at home against the Islanders last year and went on to win the series.
It’s time to regroup and get back on track in Game 3 Monday night.
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