You have probably heard all of the hockey clichés to a point of nausea. Ever-present and painstakingly obvious, the clichés are repeated like a requirement anywhere hockey is being discussed.
We’re taking this one game at a time. Well of course you are did you have a choice? We need to get our sticks on pucks. Really, I had no idea there was another way to win?
If you want to overuse an applicable cliché to describe the last two games for the Pittsburgh Penguins here it is: They have not gotten to their game. Nope, not even close to it.
Veterans are making incomprehensible mistakes while the effort has been suspect at times. The physicality has fallen off. The shot totals are a landslide in favor of the Isles. Time of possession has gone by the wayside. Turnovers…there have been a lot of turnovers, 38 of them to be exact.
Execution errors of course can be blamed - they have been fairly obvious. The effort justifiably can be blamed too, but come on, this is the playoffs and these guys are professionals. They are trying.
So what happened? What is so different? How could a team that recently went on 15 and seven game winning streaks to close the regular season look so…bad?
First, give the Islanders some credit. They have offensive talent. They have very good team speed. Most importantly, they are playing like they have nothing to lose. Talent wise, they are not on the Penguins level, but you wouldn't know it by the way the Penguins are attacking them. Or should I say, by the way the Penguins aren’t attacking them.
The Penguins will always try to utilize the best defense is a good offense strategy, and try to keep the puck in the oppositions zone. This includes the defensemen being involved with the offense, pinching the boards to keep pucks in when needed.
The Penguins have directly and indirectly gotten away from both of these strategies, conversely getting away from their game.
As I mentioned above, the Isles have great speed. The Penguins are respecting that speed, maybe a little too much. They have moved their defensemen back to guard against the stretch pass and limit the Islander transition game. Comparably, it’s the equivalent of playing prevent defense an entire game because the other team is good at throwing the Hail Mary.
What is happening is, without the defensemen there to help, the Pens can’t keep pucks in their offensive zone. The Isles are getting 2 on 2, most times 3 on 2 rushes the other way, and using that speed to get to the lose puck after the initial shot attempt. This is how the Isles wore down the Pens Friday, and if wasn’t for Sidney Crosby, would have most assuredly defeated them Sunday. The Pens can’t keep possession in their own zone; they can’t get to their game.
All hope is not lost, however. During the second period Sunday, coach Bylsma adjusted back. He moved the defensemen back up to the blue line to be more aggressive in the offensive zone. The timing, unfortunately, couldn't have been worse as Michael Grabner immediately had a breakaway opportunity after the adjustment.
Bylsma stuck with this strategy, however, and we saw a decided edge in zone time for the Penguins in OT, leading to Crosby drawing the penalty on Brian Strait, and the ensuing goal that netted the Pens the victory.
My thought is, let them have those chances. Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best goalies in the league at defending the breakaway, lean on him. The Isles might beat Fleury that way once or twice, but so what? The positive of playing the Penguins style of hockey vastly outweighs the opportunities you are giving the Isles. Besides, if you have the puck most of the time, you subsequently limit the Isles opportunities anyways. Your game is what got you here, get back to your game and stay there.