Pittsburgh Penguins: Three Things that Must Change in Round Two by @griffTHW - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins: Three Things that Must Change in Round Two by @griffTHW

For a second consecutive year, the Penguins squared off against what most would consider a largely inferior first round opponent.  That's not meant as a knock on Columbus, a team clearly in store for an incredibly bright future.  It's just that the Blue Jackets figured to find themselves outmatched in terms of skill and experience, to struggle with a Pens team that dominated the regular season series between the two squads. 

The Penguins, however, hardly rolled over the Jackets, requiring six hard fought contests to finally eliminate their up-and-coming divisional rival.  Thus, after surviving a wildly entertaining series in which no lead appeared safe, the Pens will move on, taking on the New York Rangers in the next round.

Despite living to fight another day, plenty of issues surfaced late in the season, lingering throughout the first round.  If Pittsburgh hopes to keep marching on a successful playoff run, those problems will need to be addressed. 

[For a look at what the Pens need to continue doing in order to find success, click here.] 

And it's certainly not as simple as needing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to fill the net more consistently.  Because, while getting the big guns firing on all cylinders will obviously help, that issue will likely resolve itself.

In the meantime, Dan Bylsma and his squad may want to focus on the following:


Playing 60 Minutes

In Game 5 against Columbus, the Penguins turned in their most complete effort of the series.  The result?  A 3-1 victory in which they outshot the Jackets 51-24.  Pittsburgh dominated throughout the contest and, if not for Sergei Bobrovsky, likely would have posted a much more lopsided victory.

The problem, though, stems from the fact that the Penguins struggled to string together a full 60 minutes outside of that game.  They'd dominate for stretches, only to take their collective foot off the gas and allow the Blue Jackets to seize momentum.

Twice throughout the series, Pittsburgh jumped out to an early, multi-goal lead before ultimately falling in overtime, providing the Jackets with life.  Likewise, the Penguins started more than one game in a sluggish manner, forcing themselves to manufacture furious comebacks in order to secure a victory.

And, while it made for incredibly entertaining (or frustrating, depending on your perspective) hockey, it didn't provide the Pens with a blueprint for success moving forward.  They can't keep playing with fire, hoping to flip the switch when desperation sets in.  If Pittsburgh hopes to find success against the Rangers, they'll need to put forth a more consistent effort, playing a full 60 minutes every night.

The Penalty Kill

This section could easily include the power play, focusing on special teams as a whole.  Because, despite clicking at a very respectable 20.7% against Columbus, the Pens surrendered three short-handed tallies.  That's a trend that simply can't continue.

Here, though, we're focusing on the penalty kill, a unit that flirted with a number one ranking throughout much of the campaign.  After the Olympic break, however, the group stumbled, ultimately falling to fifth on the circuit.

Once the playoffs began, the struggles continued.  Pittsburgh surrendered at least one power play marker in all but one of their six contests, killing only 74.1% of the opportunities against. 

Perhaps facing a struggling New York power play unit (10.3%) will help provide a remedy.  Maybe a few days off will give the coaching staff an opportunity to right the ship.  Either way, the Penguins need to stop the bleeding on the penalty kill.  Because what once represented one of the club's greatest strengths has transformed into a significant liability, an issue that could potentially cripple the squad's postseason aspirations. 

The Faceoff

For a puck possession team like the Penguins, consistent success in the faceoff circle proves essential.  It provides an opportunity to dictate the play and a chance for star players to do what they do best.  On the other hand, struggling makes everyone's job that much more difficult.

"When you're losing faceoffs, you're chasing it from the start of every shift. Kind of goes that way all night..." - Brandon Sutter, on the importance of draws
Unfortunately, the Pens struggled on draws against Columbus, ranking 11th among first round squads in faceoff percentage (48.4%).  And, while that's clearly not a great number, the real problem surfaced as a result of when Pittsburgh struggled inside the circle. 

Specifically, the Pens frequently lost defensive faceoffs while short-handed, leading to the Jackets hemming Pittsburgh in their own end for extended periods of time.  And, that's the last thing a team struggling on the penalty kill needs.  Was it the sole reason the unit struggled?  Of course, not.  But it certainly didn't help.

And, as a result, faceoffs are just one of the several areas the Penguins will need to improve upon if they hope to return to the Conference Final for the second year in a row.

 


 






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