Just to spell it out for posterity, the Penguins defense for this series has been:
Paul Martin - Ben Lovejoy
Rob Scuderi - Ian Cole
Brian Dumoulin - Taylor Chorney
As in for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Penguins have had to work hard, ask a lot of everyone, and to their credit they are trying and have been in each and every game. They've come up mostly short, which is really to be expected since their lineup is a lot short.
Adam Gretz explained it well here, in a great column worth a read:
When they were at their best this season their defense was made up smooth skating, skilled defenders that excelled at retrieving the puck in the defensive zone and could quickly turn it back around up the ice, limiting the amount of time they had to spend in their own zone. Their best defense was putting themselves in position where they didn't have to play defense. They could skate the puck out of danger. They could quickly get it to their forwards. They could jump into the play.
Watch a Penguins shift now and you're likely to see Sidney Crosby have to go all the way back down to his own goal-line to support defensemen who simply cannot move the puck. And, it's not on them, they're just not good enough to deal with the caliber of depth and heavy forecheck that the Rangers can dish out. Want to know why Crosby isn't scoring much? He's spending much of his shift in an uphill battle doing other people's jobs to get the puck out of the zone. Then on top of that, he has to deal with a deep and superbly coached defensive team.
Evgeni Malkin, who isn't 100% physically but still trying, God bless him, is seeming to float more along the walls and higher in the zone, which is why his line is getting pinned in even more. I counted 5 times last night when defensemen serve the puck up for Malkin or David Perron at their own blue line with 4 Rangers dutifully in front of them. Knowing that, it's no shock that neither Malkin nor Perron have scored a point this series.
However, the one criticism that does have merit is the Penguins power play. It went 0 for 5 in the last two games, both Rangers one goal wins in Pittsburgh. If the Penguins wanted to have any chance to score a huge upset - which they were in position to do after splitting the first two games in NY - they needed more on the power play.
The only game the Penguins won, they scored 2 power play goals. In the 3 games of the series that they've lost, they've scored 0. That's not the only bell-weather stat you need to know, but it certainly should loom large.
Pittsburgh's power play has lacked an identity all season, after a red hot start that pure skill masked major strategic flaws. Unlike the league's top ranked power play in Washington, Pittsburgh has no structure. The Caps run a 1-3-1 and let skilled passers in Backstrom and Johannson work pucks down low or to the point or to the triggerman for shots. And if you over-play that shot, that creates a 2-on-1 in front of the net.
The Penguins have Crosby and Malkin passing pucks around the perimeter and looking to force passes through angles that penalty killers can read a mile away. The Pens have no go-to play. No clear idea of where they want to work the puck, or even who should be taking the shot, so often time no one does, deferring further still for that ever-elusive perfect pass. The Penguins PP has let them down, it has little to no ideas and the skill and creativity of its parts add up to much more than the final result, which is a terrible thing to say, but true.
And, ironically, those 2 PPG this series? Both scored by the second unit. Taylor Chorney has been on the ice for 2 PP goals this series, which is 2 more than Crosby, Malkin or Hornqvist can say. That's more than a little embarrassing.
The nagging feeling that I think all honest thought boils down to is that the Pens season ended when Kris Letang was dumped head-first into the boards on March 28th. Without their best defenseman, it's pretty much been playing out the stretch from there, an issue only further compounded by the absence of Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot.
When 4 of the 5 best defensive puck movers on the team aren't on the team, that team is going to struggle to move the puck and create offense. That's been the case through 4 games for the Penguins. Factor in a great goalie in Henrik Lundqvist , who isn't going to let very many easy goals slip by, and it makes for the ultimate uphill battle.
The Pens have done well to battle and try to get up that hill. It just looks like they don't quite have the horses to make it.