Now that the Penguins have defeated the Islanders, the time for celebrating is over. It is back to work, as they prepare to face the Ottawa Senators in the 2nd round. With that being said, it never hurts to go back and look at what transpired into success for the Penguins and areas they need to approve upon.
The Penguins found loads of success on special teams. In six games they scored seven powerplay (PP) goals. If Pittsburgh wants to advance past Ottawa, they need to continue to capitalize on the man-advantage against the Senators stifling defense and their hot streaking goaltender, Craig Anderson. While the Penguins are good on the penalty kill (PK), it may have not seemed this way in the past series against the Islanders. Though Pittsburgh's PK was a key part to the Penguins success as they allowed only two goals during the 20 times the Islanders were on the man-advantage, they will need to reduce shots on goal(SOG) as New York constantly applied pressure. The Senators who have a stellar lineup that consist of former Penguin and powerplay specialist, Sergei Gonchar, last year's Norris Trophy winner (NHL's best defenseman) Erik Karlsson, veteran Daniel Alfredsson, and theur young star, Kyle Turris. All will provide Ottawa with generating a lot of scoring chances by applying pressure to the Penguins defense and goaltending much like the Islanders did.
Surprising Goals From Unexpected Players.
It is not hard to imagine why the Penguins have one of the more highly potent offensive teams. Especially when you have players like: Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Dupuis, and Kunitz. Pittsburgh also received some unexpected offense from players who are not known for scoring goals. Douglas Murray, who played in 57 playoff games prior to joining the Penguins at the trade deadline, scored only twice in the playoffs during that time frame. In six games against the Islanders, Murray already matched his career playoff best by finding the net twice. Prior to Game Six, Brooks Orpik played in 77 playoff games without registering a goal until scoring perhaps the biggest goal of his career that clinched the game and the series against the Islanders.
More scoring? Really? That is an issue for the Penguins? While having a star studded lineup like the Penguins have and unusual offensive production from players not known for their scoring, Pittsburgh still could use some assistance from other players as well. Brendan Morrow, whom the Penguins acquired at the trade deadline for not only his leadership and veteran presence, but for his natural scoring ability and past playoff performances as well. Morrow was held to just one point, (an assist in Game Four) and committed a costly mistake in Game 3 when he made a blind pass on the powerplay that allowed Kyle Okposo to intercept the pass and score a shorthanded goal. Morrow will need to step it up a few if the Penguins want to continue to advance. Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke also have been limited to scoring as they have only accounted for a total of three points combined in the six games against the Islanders. Pittsburgh will need them to contribute as they cannot continue to rely on only Crosby and Malkin for offensive production and also should not expect players like Murray or Orpik to continue providing unexpected goals on a nightly basis
Play Smart and Disciplined Hockey
A countless numbers of times Pittsburgh has had issues turning the puck over in the neutral or its own zone. That in itself is a recipe for disaster. Malkin had a costly turnover in Game Four and Kris Letang had one in the beginning of the third period of Game Six. Letang needs to start playing up to his expectations as a Norris Trophy candidate and play up to his potential by being smarter with the puck. Luckily for the Pens, they were able to survive and regroup as a team and found a way to come out on top. Although Pittsburgh did exceptionally well on the PK, the Penguins cannot afford to continue giving the opposition opportunities and expect to find success and move on in the playoffs. At times Evgeni Malkin has had trouble keeping his cool and has taken dumb penalties that are totally unnecessary. He needs to lead a better example for other players around him and step up his defensive game as well! After being considered one of the more, if not, dirtiest player in the game,Matt Cooke, has since cleaned up his act. Cooke still needs to have more awareness of what is going on around him and prevent himself from being called for penalties.
Fresh Legs & Energy
After the Penguins loss in Game Four, Head Coach Dan Bylsma decided to revamp the lines, sitting Beau Bennett and Tanner Glass by replacing them with Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale. The change immediately paid off, as Tyler Kennedy scored on a breakaway goal in Game 5 which was eventually the game winner. Whenever the Penguins were tired, Kennedy and Vitale have provided additional spark with their speed and stamina to wear out the opposition. If and when Pittsburgh finds themselves needing a shot of adrenaline, Kennedy and Vitale will be more than ready and set to go to provide energy for the team.
Despite registering a shutout in Game One against the Islanders, Marc-Andre Fleury would give up 14 goals in the next three games with an abysmal .845 save percentage. Though the Defense at times did not provide any sufficient assistance for Fleury as he faced 102 shots in that three game span, Fleury let his fair share of softies get behind him. Dan Bylsma did not hesitate to make a change for Game Five by putting in Tomas Vokoun. He would also register a shutout of his own that game, would come up huge multiple times in Game Six to keep the Penguins in the game. Vokoun finished with a 0.957 save percentage, stopping 66 of the 69 shots he faced against the Islanders in his two games. Though you never want to constantly flip flop starting goaltenders, Bylsma should not hesitate when need be if he sees any signs of struggling from either Fleury or Vokoun.
As shaky as goaltending has been at times, Pittsburgh and its defense has also faltered under pressure. A countless number of times against New York, the Islanders won the battle with effective forechecking and keeping the puck in the Penguins zone. This would cause Pittsburgh to become fatigued and allow New York's offense to generate and create numbers of scoring chances. Pittsburgh's defense will need to play the puck more effectively by creating less turnovers in the neutral and their own zone. They will also need to make sure they clear the puck out of their end and win the battle of puck possession to limit any scoring chances from the opposition as much as possible.
Lets Go Pens!
Losing is unheard of. Perfection, unacceptable. Just win.
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Image Sources: (1.) http://penguins.nhl.com/
(2.),(4.), (5.), (6.) courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins Official Facebook Page
(3.) http://db66abc2c256b763aaef-ce5d943d4869ae027976e5ad085dd9b0.r76.cf2.rackcdn.com/2013/129/466/evgeni-malkin-and-douglas-murray_original.jpg (http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/penguins/vokoun-shuts-out-islanders-in-4-0-penguins-victory-686998/)