Columbus Takes Game Two, Pittsburgh Needs To Make Adjustments
Columbus beat the Penguins for the first time this season thanks to a valiant double overtime effort in game two.
The Blue Jackets once again used their special teams to their advantage. When Pittsburgh used four forwards on the Power Play, Columbus pressured hard. They were able to score their second shorthanded goal of the series, this one at the expense of a poor decision by Evgeni Malkin.
The game was not a strong one for the Penguins, but it certainly is not a series killer. Tied at one apiece, the Penguins are forced to assert themselves on the road against a confident young team. If Pittsburgh wants to play the series clinching game at home on Saturday, here are a few adjustments that need to be made.
Letang and Neal to the second power play: This adjustment would help fix two major issues with the Penguins current play. For one, it would force the Penguins to use two defenders on the point on the power play (Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin). This would help cut down on the shorthanded chances as well as give the second power play two potent shots. It doesn’t seem like much, but this move should have been done at the end of the regular season.
Change the fourth line: Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale are the types of players whom you would usually associate with when it came to fourth line players. These players must be adapt at killing penalties and wasting away at the opponents stamina and possession time. For Pittsburgh, this just isn’t the case.
Tanner Glass and Craig Adams are being victimized on the penalty kill. Their lack of speed is taking away from a usually aggressive penalty kill. Craig Adams has generated four shots in the series, Glass has zero, and Vitale has won over 60% of his faceoffs. This leads us to believe that it would be more beneficial to play Jayson Megna on the fourth line instead of Glass.
Megna can kill penalties and brings considerable speed to the lineup. He has a better offensive skill set than Tanner Glass as well. Once Marcel Goc returns to the lineup, Glass would be the obvious odd man out. Either way, the change needs to be made to spark both the fourth line and the penalty kill.
Somehow Spark Kunitz and Neal: With 62 combined goals on the season, the Penguins were expecting their star wingers to produce. Through two games, neither player has a point. They have a combined 15 shots on net and somehow have nothing to show for it.
They have not played well and need to be better. In order to do so, the Penguins top centers must become selfish. Malkin and Crosby are trying too hard right now to get their wingers going. If they want them to score, they have to become the major scoring threat themselves. If Crosby and Malkin are scoring goals, the rest of the team becomes lifted. The opposition then has to shut down these two, opening up lanes for the playmakers to do what they do best.
Stop Blaming Marc-Andre Fleury: 96.4% and 96.6% were the even strength save percentages for the goaltenders in game number two. One goaltender is a Vezina trophy winner, the other is a much maligned flaked that hasn’t done anything in the post season since his early years. Both goaltenders have allowed 7 goals in the series, three of which were power play goals. Fleury has allowed two shorthanded goals, while Bobrovsky has allowed just one. Fleury’s .911 save percentage is higher than Bobrovsky’s .905 save percentage in the series. The biggest difference for the netminders thus far lies in the shorthanded goals. Pittsburgh has given up four shorthanded opportunities already in this series, compare that to just two surrendered by Columbus.
Fleury will take a lot of heat during the playoffs no matter what happens outside his control, but to blame him for the Penguins loss thus far is simply wrong.
It starts and ends with Sidney Crosby: He is the best player in the game, had an MVP worthy season, and dominated the scoring race despite missing his regular right wing for half a season.
All of that means nothing right now. The Penguins are in need of a boost and that has to come from Crosby. He has, on multiple occasions, passed up the opportunity to shoot the puck in favor of making a pass. This will not do as the Penguins go forward.
As noted earlier, the best way to alleviate pressure off the scoring wingers is for you to score. Forcing the defense to flow towards you will result in open passing lanes. Crosby is arguably the best player in the league at forcing these situations. For his team to find success in Columbus, Crosby must find a way to score.
Hope Gibbons can return ASAP: In just 2:25 of ice time on Saturday, Gibbons was able to score two goals. His shorthanded goal had the Penguins crowd energized and the team was flying. Unfortunately he left the game early and did not return.
Missing a top 9 forward this early in the game completely took away from the flow of the game for Pittsburgh. They were not able to roll their lines in the order that gave them late success in game one. Add in the fact that the game went into a second overtime period and you have a very difficult task.
Despite missing Gibbons, Pittsburgh still had the better play while five on five, generating more shots and scoring chances. Without Gibbons for game three, Pittsburgh will have to disrupt the budding chemistry of the third line once again.
Gibbons brings incredible speed to the top line, forcing a few mismatches in a man to man situation. He opens up scoring lanes by dragging defenders out of position and his speed allows him to back check at a great rate. He is listed as day to day right now and the hope is that he will be back for tomorrow night’s match up.
Keep Your Composure: In game one Pittsburgh gave Columbus four power play opportunities. They gave Columbus six more in game number two. Ten power play opportunities against is a troublesome statistic.
The fourth line of Vitale, Adams, and Glass have combined for six penalty minutes thus far. Rob Scuderi has been guilty of four penalty minutes and his partner Kris Letang has been guilty for six penalty minutes. Letang has arguably been the Penguins worst player thus far.
Letang has zero points, is a minus two, and has just one shot on goal thus far. If Pittsburgh wants to have any success, they need Letang to play at a much higher level.
So far there is no reason to panic. The Penguins knew that Columbus was going to be a tough out in the playoffs. The statistics play out in favor of Pittsburgh winning this series, but statistics are not a crystal ball. Pittsburgh will need to adjust and adapt if they want to move on to the second round.