Penguins Update: Prelude to the Playoffs? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Prelude to the Playoffs?

In the wake of Team USA’s heartbreaking loss to Team Canada on Friday, a buddy of mine shook his head and muttered, “The damn Penguins lost again.” His eyes widened as he caught his mistake, and he quickly corrected himself. But the analogy was made.

pp0438He was right, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was watching a replay of our season-ending 1-0 loss to Boston in last year’s Conference Finals. Team Canada (the Bruins) repeatedly denied the Americans (Penguins) access to the prime scoring areas and forced them to play a perimeter game.

While you certainly can’t pin Team USA’s defeat on coach Dan Bylsma, it does reinforce the notion that he can’t win the big one. Especially when he’s up against an opponent that employs a trapping, defensive style.

It makes me wonder if this isn’t a prelude to the upcoming NHL playoffs. Once again, the black and gold is blowing through the regular season like a competition drag racer bolting down the track. But what happens if the locals run into a team that embraces a defense-first philosophy? Will it result in another frustrating postseason exit?

Assistant coach Jacques Martin figures to play a key role if the Penguins hope to recapture the Cup. Martin masterminded Montreal’s lane-clogging 1-2-2 that led to our playoff demise in 2010. Given his expertise, perhaps he’ll help Bylsma devise an “anti-venom” to the defensive schemes that seem to stymie the Pens in postseason play.

A crease-crashing forward with size and a scoring touch would help, too. Whether GM Ray Shero is able to acquire one before the trade deadline—especially in light of the potential long-term absences of Kris Letang and Paul Martin—remains to be seen.

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  1. Brad's Gravatar Brad
    February 24, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Interesting article, except Canada did not employ a trapping style. Suffocating defense yes, trap no. They were in a 2-1-2 most of the game. It was the USA that was in a passive 1-2-2. I don’t know that the Penguins have ever done this in recent years. It was talked about in the Boston series (e.g., Mark Madden), as an anti-venom to the defensive style of the Bruins, but I don’t recall it being employed. Clearly though, you need to be more defensively minded in the playoffs to win big games, and ironically this is what Bylsma employed, and he got a 1 goal loss out of it. Some people think he should have opened up the gates and played aggressive – but as you note, this has not worked either in the big games with the Pens…so what’s the man to do? He tried to play it close to the vest and lost to a good team.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 25, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Very good points, Brad.

      I’m not sure what the answer will be for the Penguins. During last season’s four-game sweep at the hands of the Bruins, the Pens had precious few second-chance opportunities. Boston succeeded (as Team Canada did vs. Team USA) in forcing us to play a perimeter game.

      Let’s face it … you’re not going to score from the sideboards in the playoffs. You need to get pucks to the net and create traffic in front. Last year Evgeni Malkin was the only black and gold forward to employ the center drive. He had precious little help.

      Aside from Chris Kunitz, who usually is stapled to the opposing goalie, I don’t think we have enough net-front presence. That’s why I’m hoping against hope that Shero can somehow land a big forward who can crash the net and score (a valuable and scarce commodity). I don’t think Taylor Pyatt’s the answer.

  2. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    February 22, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Well I’m Canadian so I was very happy with the Men and Women winning..but your right Rick, now I could see the Pen’s losing in the playoffs again against a bigger tougher team, that slows the pace and plays defense first.

    Don’t get me wrong I”l be behind them all the way but….

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 23, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Hey Pen’s 4ever,

      You expressed things perfectly. Like you, I’m behind the Pens all the way. But I fear that—as we’re presently constructed—we won’t be able to beat a team that plays a physical, defensive game (like Boston).

      The Pens have some serious issues on the third line. I’m guessing Ray Shero planned to take advantage of our defensive depth to trade for some help up front. But with Letang and now Martin out, it’s going to restrict his trade options.

      My other concern is Dan Bylsma. Not to take anything away from all he’s achieved (Stanley Cup, Jack Adams Award, etc.), but he really seems to struggle whenever he has to make in-game adjustments or alter his game plan. Dejan Kovacevic, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, noted the lack of adjustments in Team USA’s loss to Team Canada.

      Congratulations, by the way, on Canada winning two hockey gold medals. They were richly deserved.


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