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Analysis: How the Pens can dig out of their hole

A look at what's gone wrong for the Pittsburgh Penguins and how they can start righting their ship against the Boston Bruins before it's too late.

Bruce Bennett

Down, 0 games to 2, but the Pittsburgh Penguins feel like they’re in an even deeper hole to the Boston Bruins. The Bruins have been worlds better than the Pens in the series first two games, in just about every aspect you can think of. Outscoring the Pens 9-1 and running away with the series.

Justin Bourne from The Score had an appropriately titled “The Boston Bruins discipline is killing the Penguins, who are only making their own problems worse” article today that’s highly recommended reading. So how can the Pens get this back on track before their season is wrapped up and we’re all left to wonder just what happened?

Bourne’s first point is about Dan Bylsma and puck support-

There was a comment on CBC last night by Elliotte Friedman where he observed something I had tweeted about too – the Penguins had no puck support. They skated away from each other on even-man rushes, and they never once chipped the puck behind a d-man while a teammate skated onto the puck, which is mind-blowing considering how great the Bruins gap control was last night.

That’s tremendous and true- if you look at the Bruins their defense has done a good job at playing tight gaps, and forcing the Pens into giveaways, bad passes, deflected shots. Then Boston quickly gets the puck up and out of their own end, to rushing forwards who gain the Pens blue-line rather easily. Their transition game has caught the Pens off-guard, started by the good decisions made by Boston defensemen. The Pens are getting jammed up (with no one more high profile than what should be their best defenseman, Kris Letang) making bad plays inside the Pens line, shooting them in the foot before they ever get the chance to mishandle the puck like Bourne and Friedman note above. It’s like a never ending process of quick-sand and the more the Pens forwards try to “lone wolf” it, the easier seems for Boston to predict what they’ll do, steal the puck from them, and get it going the other way in a hurry.

Which leads into Bourne’s next point about Sidney Crosby

Crosby made a terrible decision at the blue to start the game (the Marchand goal), and he didn’t improve over the next 59 minutes and 30 seconds. He turned solid possession into a Bruins rush no less than 10 times last night (I don’t know what the actual stats say, but I guarantee that was a reality).

I think I’ve watched almost every game Sidney Crosby has played competitively for almost eight years- last night was, by far, the worst I can ever remember seeing him play. He couldn’t play the puck without turning it over. He looked like he was skating in quick-sand. His abilities to even just simply receive passes seemed off. I don’t know what it is, but from top to bottom he looks off. Is it the jaw or now the lack of the jaw-protector? I don’t tend to lean that way, but who knows.

The bottom line is that Crosby has to be a lot better. Much like Evgeni Malkin. Much like James Neal. And Jarome Iginla. And Chris Kunitz. And Pascal Dupuis (even though you can tell he is trying).

Bourne on everyone’s favorite topic, the goaltending:

And Vokoun was bad too. I see a lot of “can’t fault hims” going on out there – you’re rarely allowed to with goalies, or something – But yes you can. It’s okay to expect your starting NHL goalie to get you some saves, and not give up any freebies like the Bruins second. But you go back to Vokoun, because Fleury is a headcase right now. I think he can get it together again some day, but for now, he gets to watch.

It’s hard to disagree much, even if Iginla didn’t do Vokoun any favors by dropping back-coverage of David Krejci, who’s only the playoffs leading scorer and a guy clearly capable of getting to the slot and then putting the puck in the net. Bourne’s finishing logic is solid- it’s hard to even fantasize that Marc-Andre Fleury is capable of winning Game 3. Can Vokoun do it? Maybe, maybe not, but I feel like he has a chance. Fleury just doesn’t inspire any chance of success.

The question now is if they can overcome this adversity and pull it together. My biggest concern is that this was a shortened season where they made deadline acquisitions, and not for small personalities. Are they at the point where they’re comfortable telling one another the truth?

We’ll see the results of this. Dan Bylsma has to figure some things out too. Does he continue to use Iginla on the left wing, where he’s been ineffective and hasn’t meshed well Malkin and Neal? How will they try to jump-start Crosby and the rest of the team? And they can talk about defensive responsibilities and making the right play in the locker-room but can the Pens actually “walk the walk” out on the ice against a capable, fast and now confident opponent?

The Pens are in a deep hole, especially with two road games, but it’s not over yet. Going on the road and trying to play a simple, effective “road game” might be just what this team needs. Other than not giving up a goal early, one gets the sense if the Pens can just put the messy blowout of Game 2 behind them and just get focused on playing solid hockey one shift at a time, it’ll be a start.

And they had better start before they find this series is already over.