With all due respect to the New York Islanders tremendous play in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins were terrible.
They refused to alter their stretch passing breakout plan after the Islanders set up a 1-3-1 trapping system. They refused to battle for long stretches of time in order to stifle the quick transition game of the Islanders. The Penguins almost refused to change everything except for the goaltender and while this worked out to their advantage, it is not going to work this time around.
The Ottawa Senators, the Penguins next opponent in round two of the playoffs, are a completely animal than that of the Islanders. The Senators will not play the one three one system. The Senators will instead force the Penguins to skate up and down the ice, exchanging chances in a faster pace. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but with Pittsburgh struggling to maintain composure in their end it could be bad news.
Ottawa is a team that uses their size and speed to their advantage. They allow a lot of shots on net, in fact they allowed over 31 shots per game on average during the regular season. For the Senators though, it does not matter. They have Craig Anderson backing them, a goaltender known for having an insane save percentage and not allowing soft goals. Every goal scored on Anderson requires excellent passing and tough net front play.
Ottawa not only allows a lot of shots on net, they take a lot of shots on net. Ottawa is a team that finished first in the league in shots per game. They have a run and gun style of play that breaks games wide open. Against the Penguins, this can be deadly. The Penguins have not been solid enough in their transition game to maintain consistent pressure on the opposition. This lack of pressure is exactly what the Senators feed off of.
If Pittsburgh wants to win another round in the Playoffs, the Penguins must find ways to strengthen their transition game. The first aspect of this is using their mobile defensemen to their advantage. Having the defense carry the puck out of the back end and into the neutral zone will eliminate the redline pass that has resulted in multiple turnovers. This simplistic neutral zone play should result in stronger offensive rushes that include the defense.
The offensive rushes that include the defense should then result in a stronger five man cycle for the Penguins. Establishing this cycle will eliminate the Senators game plan of one and done chances on net. Getting these second chances on a good goaltender like Anderson is the best chance of taking this series.
Second chances also mean tough net front presence. While Malkin and Neal are more familiar with playing the open zone, players such as Crosby, Iginla, Dupuis, and Kunitz should see the better part of the second chances if made available. This extra work down low is going to be the difference maker of this series and the Penguins best chance of coming out with four wins.
Finally, the biggest question that needs answered is who will man the net for the Penguins. While Marc-Andre Fleury had a terrible series against the Islanders, it is difficult to imagine the Penguins winning a Stanley Cup without the play of an elite talent like Fleury. On the other hand, you have the calming veteran presence of Tomas Vokoun ready to play and play well at the drop of a hat.
All of this means nothing though if the Penguins do not exponentially improve their effort given in the first round. It is going to truly take a full team effort in this series to derail the Senators, who are seemingly on a mission to show the league they are for real. Pittsburgh must learn from their lazy play in round one in order to advance past the Senators.
Amongst all of the talk about Matt Cooke and Eugene Melnyk, the Penguins and Senators have their own story set. This is the fourth time since 2007 that these teams will meet in the playoffs. Familiarity breeds contempt and with the Ottawa Sun providing countless fuel to this fire, this series in its entirety should be entertaining for all fans.