Hockey After Dark: Night...who's counting? (the "Get the Tequila, 100 Proof Reality Incoming" Edition) by @DXTraeger - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Hockey After Dark: Night...who's counting? (the "Get the Tequila, 100 Proof Reality Incoming" Edition) by @DXTraeger

"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a late-night recap of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Topics will include scores, injuries, controversies, the Twitter-verse, and random jokes at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals– especially their FANS!  I strongly encourage clicking on the links, they might have candy them!*  *No links contain candy)

My newest daughter, Aurora Paige, is perfect.

The same cannot be said about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh is playing with a veritable M*A*S*H unit on the ice (FYI, "M*A*S*H" stands for "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital") with the following players missing time during the Ottawa series:

     -Kristopher (God, I hate you Pierre) Letang
     -Patric Hornqvist
     -Trevor Dailey
     -Justin Schultz
     -Bryan Rust

If you're scoring at home (and I know you are!), that means that the Penguins are playing without two Top-6 forwards, and arguably 3 of their Top 4 defensemen.  At "best" (...worst?), the Penguins are lacking their A, B, & C options to run the power-play, which has been more anemic than Ronald Dahl.

Totally related, "snozzberries" refers to penises.  TRUE STORY.
Okay, now I'm transitioning from talking about penis jokes in a children's book to talking about how dire the Penguins' playoff situation is, and BELIEVE ME, the situation is bad.

Maybe not as YUGE as this guy's problems, but YUGE.
At the heart of the Penguins' woes lies the blue liners.

No, I'm not about to eviscerate the play of Olli Maatta and/or Ron Hainsley, because they're more or less playing at or above their own expected levels.

While I'm not a big Maatta fan because he has a awful bad tendency to be caught flat-footed on passes through the middle of the neutral zone while have led to multiple unnecessary offensive scoring chances for both the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators.

The pairing of Hainsey/Maatta– that is to say person who deserves accountability for placing them together– falls on the Penguins' coaching stafff, and even then, the lack of a defenseman with legitimate skating speed is at an absolute premium given the injuries Pittsburgh has incurred.

The end "Butterfly Effect" result of wounded defensemen is this:  the blue-liners that are retrieving dumps & loose pucks in the Penguins' end of the ice are not ideally suited for that style of game that a healthy Letang & Daley can exploit (two strides, move the puck, take a hit, and then enter the transition game as a trailer)

If you sat through the entirety of Game 3 (and in full disclosure, I turned on Archer's "Skytanic" episode during the 2nd intermission and never looked back), then you saw multiple examples of how the "dull" Ottawa Senators erupted for what amounted to 4 unanswered goals in basically 3 minutes.

So....what happened?  A few things, with blame equally shared among the players on the ice:

     1) Poor rebound/board response by Fleury.  He over-compensated on each shot that hit what's now known to be the liveliest base boards since Detroit 2008 (remember: Fleury struggled mightily).
     2) Non-existent defensive marking of offensive players entering the crease following a puck that ricocheted behind the net.  Ron Hainsey was caught singing some Eric Carmen on one such "bad bounce" Ottawa tally, and multiple wingers were either unwilling or caught napping when it came to covering their point assignments, as Ottawa offensively pinched, found loose pucks, and buried them.

What are the solutions?  Stronger, more aggressive play by the defensemen in terms of prioritizing clearing the zone in lieu of trying to jump-start the transition game. 

This is a serious concession so far as the Penguins (under Mike Sullivan) have thrived on a transitional game that feeds into their advantages of speed & skill once inside the attacking zone.

Unfortunately, the Pens are lacking the players capable of side-stepping a forecheck in the defensive zone (Letang/Daley/Schultz) and jump-starting an offensive now devoid of the center-driving Hornqvist and the perimeter driving Rust, which reshuffles the offensive player deck into relying on controlled puck entries and then focused cycles below Ottawa's goal line.

Personally, I'm not as vexed by the 1-3-1 Ottawa Neutral-Zone Trap as all of the media pundits seem to be.  The Penguins can beat the 1-3-1 by reversing their entry (via a cross-ice pass pre-red line) and then aggressively pursuing the puck into the corner where Anderson can't reach or intercept it), or by utilizing a Murphy Dump into either corner and using their offensive speed to negate Ottawa's structure.

If Anderson feels compelled to try and play the puck, Tommy Barrasso he is not, and the Penguins could reap the whirlwind of a potential mistake.

Regardless of the defensive lineup, the Penguins' will make their hay by getting the puck out into the neutral-zone and let their advantage of skill ("finish") players do the job on Anderson, whom to this point has done nothing but sit in the butterfly position and let pucks miraculously wander into his body.

Pittsburgh, to win, has to play dirty and eschew the beautiful goals that worked for them in Rounds 1&2.

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