Telling Signs of Game 1

 

In a very exciting game one, the Pittsburgh Penguins stormed out to a 3-0 lead. They dominated puck possession and hits early.  With thirteen shots on net in the first, the Penguins looked like they were going to intimidate Philadelphia early.  But their lead was not enough as they completely imploded and allowed Philadelphia to come back and win the game.

Telling Stat Number 1 – Turnovers

                I briefly touched on what was key to the Penguins winning this series, puck control.  Against Philadelphia all season Pittsburgh was only outshot twice, however, they lost the turnover battle all 6 regular season games.  In a similar fashion, the Penguins turned the puck over 8 times in game 1. Philly only had 3 turnovers.  With two teams so strong in transition and cycling the puck, it is crucial not to aid the opposition at all. Pittsburgh was too careless with the puck and allowed Philadelphia to continually regain control and keep their cycle going.

Telling Stat Number 2 – Special Teams

                Number 3 in penalty kill and 5 in power play seems great heading into the playoffs.  This was not the case in Pittsburgh on Wednesday though.  The Pens went 0-3 on the power play and allowed Philly to score on their only man advantage.  In a series dominated by offense, the Penguins must capitalize on opportunities such as this. They had only 2 shots per power play and allowed Philadelphia to move the puck with ease on their man advantage. 

Telling Stat Number 3 – Hits

                Probably the most suprising stat of the night was the hitting.  There was a ton of hits in this game, but no stat will show Pittsburgh’s drop in play like this one.  6 hits were registered on Nicklas Grossmann in the first thirty minutes, but 0 hits were registered after that.  This is a clear sign that Pittsburgh abandoned their game and became all too comfortable.

Telling Stat Number 4 – Malkin’s Line

                The most dominant line in all of hockey. Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz combined for over 115 goals and 250 points. They did not register a single point in game one.  This line cannot go dry for a single game in this series if the Pens want to win.  They are a key part of Pittsburgh’s immense scoring depth and have been able to take over games by themselves.

How to Fix It

                First off, the Penguins have to control the puck.  There is a strong chance the Penguins take another early lead in game 2. With this the Penguins have to continue to dump and chase, taking time off the clock and making the Flyers abandon their quick transition game. This controlling of the puck must result from straight passes north, no more quick drops or side to side.  They must also continue to shoot the puck on net.  Setting up the perfect play does not always work, but hard work and strong play down low has proved to work.

                Secondly, the Penguins must capitalize on power play chances and spread the wealth.  The Pens worked today with Sullivan manning the point on Power Play number 1 with Crosby and Neal switching in and out. Crosby also spent time on power play number 2, working primarily the point.  This will allow Pittsburgh to have a balanced attack, keeping the pressure on for a full two minutes.

                Thirdly, the Penguins cannot abandon their quest to hit every player.  In order to knock a team off of their game, you have to literally knock them off their game.  Pittsburgh had great success early on doing this, causing the Flyers to make errant passes.  This pressure late in games is going to stifle the Flyers late rushes and neutralize their great comebacks.

                Finally, Malkin’s line must come through.  The league’s leading MVP candidate cannot be held off of the score sheet.  He and Neal must continue to get shots while Chris Kunitz drives the net.

                Probably the biggest reason that Giroux and Malkin were not as strong in this game was the great play of strong two way forwards.  Jordan Staal and Sean Couturier were excellent defending in game 1.  The Flyers took a page out of Pittsburgh’s book in drafting Couturier, who in his first NHL season truly resembles Jordan Staal (lacking a slight scoring touch that Staal showed).  These big lanky forwards are very difficult to play against and proved that tremendously in game 1.

Telling Sign that Wasn’t Telling at all – Briere offsides

                It was an obvious blown call as Danny Briere never touched up, but this did not matter.  The Penguin’s abandoning their game and not capitalizing on the Power Play were the real reasons they lost this game, not one missed call.  There was also a very debatable icing call that was waived off earlier that eventually led to a Penguins goal. 

                All in all, the credit truly deserves to go to the flyers for sticking to their game plan and winning this game in tremendous fashion.  The flyers proved that their depth will continue to produce and that their young mindset is both a positive and a negative.

Funny Joke of Game 1 – Pre-game speeches

                I am not sure what Peter Laviolete tells his club before they go out into a game, but he really stinks at it. Thank goodness he can give a heck of an intermission speech.

I cannot wait for game 2 and best of luck to all.  Let’s Go Pens!