What Can the Penguins do to Survive Round One?
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who were the heavy favorites to not only win the Round 1 series against the Islanders, but also to win the Stanley Cup, appear to be struggling in the first four games of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. So, what can they do to turn it around and continue their march towards Lord Stanley’s Cup?
System: since Dan Bylsma became the Head Coach of the Penguins he has implemented a high-pace quick transition system that many teams in the league have trouble handling when executed perfectly. The New York Islanders are not one of those teams. Much like Pittsburgh, New York is a fast team. Actually, they are a faster team. In both games two and three, I was one of the fans who sat there saying “The Pens need to get to their game. Once that happens, the Isles wont stand a chance.” But, the problem is that they have been playing their game all along. Much like the playoffs of last year, it is noticeable that Bylsma’s system is not effective in the post season. New York has used Pittsburgh’s system against them, forcing turnovers and proving that their speed is much more superior.
How to Fix it
Dan Bylsma needs to change his system. Unfortunately, Dan is not known for adjusting his game plan on a regular basis. That is not to say he has never done it. If you look back to this past March when the Penguins went on a 15-game winning streak, he implemented a more defensive system. A system that lead to an impressive streak, including beating the New York Islanders twice within that time. The idea is to force the Islanders to change their in-game plan… in the game. Doing so will throw them off and cause them to make mistakes. My fear is it may be too late for this to work. Have the Islanders gained too much confidence? Will they be able to handle a change of pace?
Offensive Lineup: the top two lines of the Penguins have been sub par this series. Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis may have been the #1 line in the league during the regular season, but since Crosby has come back, they haven’t shown the success they had in those 36 games. Malkin-Iginla-Neal has shown spurts of brilliance, but has not shown any consistency since they have been put together.
Defensive Lineup: Orpik-Martin, Letang and Murray. Honestly they are the only defensemen that should be a sure thing come Game 5. Eaton, Niskanen, Despres and Engelland have all proved that they are incapable of keeping up with the speed of the Islanders. Niskanen has been unable to manage the puck well. Engelland proved to be extremely slow and took two very bad penalties because of it. Despres played only six and a half minutes in Game 3 and was quite possibly the main reason for the Isles first two goals that game. This is a problem that many of us saw before the season started, but looked the other way when the Penguins played strong defensively during the 15-game win streak.
How to Fix it
Offense: just like I said yesterday, it’s time for Iginla to play along side Crosby and Dupuis. On Malkin’s line, Iginla is being utilized as a Left Winger, Jarome has played Right Wing his entire 16-year career in the NHL and has shown he is uncomfortable on the left. Neal is also unable to be effective in the Left Wing position. The most logical move would be to move Kunitz (LW) onto a line with Malkin and Neal. Remember, they were the #1 line in the league last season. They can move Dupuis to the left side of Crosby as he is the most versatile winger the Penguins have. That move opens up the Right Wing on Sid’s line which Iginla could easily fit. Doing this could easily jump start Iginla as well as Malkin and Kunitz. The worst that could happen is they continue to lose…. So why not give it a shot?
Defense: this all depends on what Bylsma does. If he refuses to change his game plan and decides to force a system that is not working, then it really doesnt matter who he puts in the line up; the outcome will be the same either way. If Bylsma does change his plan, then in my opinion it may be best to keep Niskanen in the line up and bring Engelland back in. Niskanen will be on a short leash though and likely play #6 minutes. The only other choice would be Eaton, which if Bylsma chooses him… well six one way, half a dozen the other.
Leadership: Crosby, Morrow, Orpik, Malkin, Kunitz, Iginla, Martin. What do all of those players have in common? “Everyone of them has either worn a Captain “C” or an “A” this season.” Why are they not providing more leadership? Crosby looked good in Game 3, but was nearly invisible in Game 4. Not a knock on Sid, New York was all over him in that loss, but that is why Ray Shero brought in Iginla and Morrow. Each of these players have shown signs of leadership once or twice in this series, but that is not good enough.
How to Fix it
Someone NEEDS to take over this series, they need to hold the other players accountable and lead by example. Does that mean someone needs to get into a fight at the right moment? How about scoring a few big goals to give their team momentum? It doesn’t matter, all I know is if these players are not making an impact in some way, this series is already over.
Goaltending: it truly pains me to say this as I have been a Marc Andre Fleury supporter for the past six or seven years. I always knew he had his faults and he would occasionally allow a soft goal in the net, but in the last past three games he has let in five maybe six soft goals that have caused the Islanders to either win or tie the game. Prior to game 4 it was obvious that a large number of Islanders goals were not all on him, unfortunately, he is a large reason why the Penguins lost that game on Tuesday night.
How to Fix it
Start Vokoun in game 5. Vokoun has below a 1.00 GAA when facing the Isles this season and he was signed by Ray Shero for this exact reason. He is capable of staying calm and cool in a series like this and should be able to stay solid in Game 5. If the Pens lose due to poor team play then maybe go back to Fleury in Game 6, if they win and it was because of Vokoun than Bylsma may have a decision to make…. Maybe?
H. E. A. R. T.: not a single team has ever won the Cup without Heart. You can try and say the Islanders of the late 70′s or the Oilers of the 80′s… you would be wrong… besides the amazing skill those teams had, they understood something this Penguins team appears to not realize. This is THEIR moment. It is very unlikely that any of these players will ever get a chance like this again to win the most coveted Trophy in all of sports. When a team plays with heart you will see desire, intensity and urgency. All things a team needs to win the Cup.
How to Fix it
They need to play like it means something, they need to leave everything on the ice. They must not only show the fans or the coaches, but show themselves that they are worthy of playing in the playoffs.
Game 4 should have been a wake up call. The Penguins need to change and they need to do it before the drop of the puck in Game 5. Everything stated above is not a guarantee to help them win the series or the Cup, but they are the aspects that have been blatantly obvious since game 2 as the problems.
So what do you think, did I miss something that you feel is what needs fixed for them to stand a chance at winning this series?
“Because it’s the Cup!”
- Robert Slavinsky
You can Follow Robert Via Twitter @RSlavi_HTPens