The San Jose Sharks are not unlike the last three opponents for the Penguins. Each have gotten caught up in the discussion about the Penguins skill and speed, barely recognizing, at least publicly, the team has been a tactical nightmare to counter on the ice.
In the series against the New York Rangers, Derek Stepan recognized it telling reporters, "More so than anything, we did a terrible job of getting through the neutral zone. They have four guys in the neutral zone. You’re not going to get it through pretty. You have to get it in deep and work as a five-man unit to get it back."
In game two, Peter DeBoer tried to change things up by inserting Matt Nieto in the lineup over Dainius Zubrus and then later putting Patrick Marleau on the third line as he moved up Joel Ward.
The neither move did much to change the flow of the game.
The Sharks defensemen have been getting pressured into making quick decisions with the puck, which has forced a great deal of disruption to their breakouts or worse, turnovers that the Penguins have turned into momentum changing shifts.
If you watch the video on the Phil Kessel goal in game two, it is a great example of how the Penguins are more than just simply a quick team.
Carl Hagelin pressures Roman Polak into a dumb decision to move the puck sideways even though he has two better options to stay on his forehand and flip the puck out of the zone to middle of the ice or backhand the puck up the ice to the right wing boards.
Both would have been the play to make as the east-west allows the Penguins to set their trap in the neutral or worse, on plays like this. The puck skips on Polak as he's passing it over to Brenden Dillon, which allowed Kessel to pounce on the pass.
Once Kessel disrupted the D-to-D, it gave Hagelin all the time needed to join in the pressure and eventually lift Dillon's stick, steal the puck and pass it to Nick Bonino coming down the middle of the ice against an out of position Polak flopping to the ice.
While the Sharks have quality forwards and a good top four on defense, when you watch the video to compare how Tampa Bay countered the Penguins speed and trap, it is obvious the Sharks don’t have the type of game to use the stretch pass as their forwards like to bring the puck up the ice as a 5-man unit.
In game seven, Lightning got the puck and quickly moved it up the ice and then went east-west to create the gap in the zone coverage to enter the offensive zone. Jon Cooper recognized the best way for his team to get up the ice and avoid the trap was to push the envelope with the stretch pass.
Another component is once the Lightning had the puck, they had guys going to the net to create traffic in front of Murray as the Penguins defensemen are not the strongest in boxing out and giving their goalie a lane to see.
It will be very interesting to see if the late game two goal for Justin Braun through a screen generates more traffic for the Sharks. Far too often, we’ve seen San Jose enjoying life on the outside of the perimeter or to the side of the crease.