A Tale of Two Teams
After two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Pittsburgh Penguins have found themselves in an interesting position.
They are tied with the New York Islanders with one victory per team. The problem is, both teams played a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in the first two games and gave little indication as to who is going to show up in game number 3.
In game one, it appeared to all that the Penguins were exactly what we figured them to be: well oiled offensive machine that was physically underrated and defensively sound. In game two we saw a Penguins team that quickly abandoned their philosophy of playing up and down, sound hockey.
Despite the Penguins hot start to game two, it was fairly obvious that the Islanders were just being beat by a few well timed plays.
The Penguins did not force play at all in the first. They allowed the goals to almost come to them, with the exception of the goal scored by Evgeni Malkin, and they almost refused to force play.
The statistic that changes dramatically for the Penguins in game two as opposed to game one, besides the goals allowed, was the total of give aways.
In game one the Penguins limited their give aways to just two, showing a true puck possession game. In game number two the Penguins had a total of eleven give aways.
Their neutral zone transition was terrible and the lack of execution was evident when multiple times the Penguins went for the cross ice pass instead of the more effective dump and chase.
It was a game that reminds even the best of teams that one has to continuously play well if they want to win. The Islanders forced play, made the tough plays in the tough areas, which was something the Penguins did not allow them to do in game one. They hit hard and made the first hits this time, not retaliatory hits that took place half heartedly away from the play.
The Islanders came to play and showed their road strength as well, failing once again to lose consecutive games while on the road.
The Penguins now go to Long Island, where they have had plenty of success over the past few years.
The Pens have to play a much stronger game than their last outing though. They need to force play into the dirty areas and limit their turnovers.
The Penguins should see a slight change in the roster as well. Neither Brooks Orpik nor James Neal played in game two, but both have a possibility of being available for game three.
One of the young defenders in Robert Bortuzzo or Simon Despres could also play in place of Deryk Engelland who had a rough game two.
The real surprise could be seen within the top two lines though. Despite production, Jarome Iginla has not visually looked the fit with Evgeni Malkin.
If James Neal is ready to play, one should expect the line combinations of Pasqal Dupuis-Sidney Crosby-Iginla and Chris Kunitz-Malkin-Neal. It provides the best possible balance amongst these possible combinations.
Finally, we should expect Marc-Andre Fleury to have a bounce-back game. Once the Islanders started their comeback in game two, Fleury was over-anticipating just about every shot, leaving him way out of position. If he is able to settle down and play smarter, like he did in game one, the Penguins will have a good opportunity to get back on track.