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Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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Pens-Flyers: What Pittsburgh Must Do To Put Game 1 In Rear-View Mirror
Follow me on Twitter @JohnToperzer
All is not lost with the Penguins, just one game in a best-of-seven series. Granted, if you picked the worst possible way to lose a game, then the Pens likely nailed it in Game 1. But none of that matters or carries over to Game 2. The score will be 0-0 at the drop on the opening puck.
Game 2 Keys
Watch Wayne Simmonds
This gent physically wore down the Pens, particularly Kris Letang. He was a terror below the Pittsburgh goal line and ran free. His objective is to lay the lumber and give his teammates room in close quarters and he’s a master in doing so. During one third-period scramble he threw Letang to the ice and created a wide-open opportunity right in front of the net. Whether his no-call first-period tripping penalty amped him up even further, I’m not sure – but he’s a beast that is underrated and needs watched.
Backcheck & Get Back
If nothing else, Penguins coaches watching Game 1 tape have to realize that their centermen lingered, floated and looked for offensive opportunities a tad too long when they should’ve been scrambling to get back into the defensive zone. How many times did the Flyers have one skater more than Pittsburgh coming into the Pens’ end? Too many to count. That’s not a winning recipe against a good team.
Look Before You Pass
Someone obviously watches tape for Philly, because every time Zbynek Michalek throws a blind reverse pass behind his own net Claude Giroux or another Flyers forward is there to pick it off. Philadelphia knows Pittsburgh’s tendencies seemingly better than the Penguins themselves. It’s almost as if the Flyers hired Bill Belichick and his staff to scout the Pens.
Play Six Defensemen
Using primarily four defensemen might work against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the Flyers have the ability to pressure the puck with any line they throw out there. Kris Letang can’t do it all himself. Giving guys like Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland more even-strength ice time during the first 40 minutes will better keep Letang and friends fresher the final 20-plus minutes. I wouldn’t rule out recalling Robert Bortuzzo. Someone on defense needs to entertain a defensive mentality other than Brooks Orpik.
Here’s what Orpik said after Wednesday’s game, as per the Penguins’ Web site.
“I think last night was just mentality really. We watched a lot of video this morning and it was just our approach to the game when you get a three-goal lead like that. I think you have to look more at winning the game 3-0 rather than chasing the fourth goal. If you play well defensively and responsibly you are going to force their team to take chances. By playing good defense you are going to get opportunities offensively. You just have to stay patient. We got a little too excited when we made it 3-0. There are a lot of other areas. It’s our physicality in the first half of the game. It was great and then it was almost nonexistent in the second half. But there are a lot of areas. You can point out a lot of different areas. Everybody was responsible.”
Watch For Sneakiness
The Flyers take advantage of the whole sheet of ice, not just one side of it. Too many times the off-wing came across Pittsburgh’s blue line uncovered. The Flyers did a great job anticipating what was about to happen next rather than reacting to what just happened. Again, they are well coached and disciplined.
That buzz term hasn’t come up in recent times but anyone who watched Game 1 realizes that the Pens need to do a better job camping someone in front of Philadelphia’s goal. It just didn’t happen Wednesday. Chris Kunitz has shown the ability to handle that type of work in the past. The perimeter play is pretty but getting the puck to the net scores more goals. Dirty goals count just as much as tic-tac-toe's.
Move your feet. Daniel Briere put on a skating clinic all night long, whether it was during the rush he drew a Brooks Orpik penalty or when he wristed the Flyers' second-goal from the left boards. He caught the Penguins standing around on his second goal. It was almost as if Pittsburgh defenders all had anchors while Briere did his dance. It’s hard to say whether the Penguins were thinking too much in their own, too tired or the Flyers were just too fast, but standing around is no way to defend.
The Power Play
Looking at tape of the Pens’ third-period power play showed that the chances were there. Yes, the team went 0-for-3 on the man advantage and yes, it’s 1-for-38 dating back to last year, but all you can ask for is opportunities and they created them Wednesday. Staal hit a post, Staal missed the net from the slot, Sullivan was stopped from the slot with no juicy rebound, and Sidney Crosby had a quality chance. People may be understandably overreacting to something that’s not broken.
That said, Pittsburgh put in a lot of power-play work during Thursday’s practice. Steve Sullivan moved to a point with Letang instead of Crosby and Kunitz was lifted off the top unit. Splitting Crosby and Malkin into two separate units for one-minute long shifts would really create matchup problems for the Flyers and keep both players (and their linemates) fresher for play immediately after the power play.
Philadelphia scored the game-tying goal with its second power-play unit.
Can you hear me, can you hear me now?
Reviewing the Jakub Voracek game-winning goal, the Penguins trio of Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Staal could’ve and should’ve easily stopped Voracek. Rather than focusing on Matt Carle’s wrister from the left boards, Letang looked away toward the off-side. As a result, his stick wasn’t strong when Carle’s shot hit it. The flat-footed Staal, thinking Letang would easily corral the fairly weak wrister, let up, allowing Voracek to swoop in for the score. That play turned out to be a perfect storm for the Flyers.
The Penguins are better than what they showed in Game 1 but so are the Flyers. Neither Malkin nor Giroux impacted the contest the way they have all season long. Who knows what's going to happen Friday, but one thing is for sure. The Penguins must pay better attention to detail if they hope to figure out the Flyers going forward.
Treasure Life & Let's Go Pens!
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