Until Game 2, the Pittsburgh Penguins did not lack for offensive production against the Philadelphia Flyers. For the first time this season, the Flyers took gave the Penguins precious little room within the neutral zone and offensive areas. The Penguins were forced to fight for space in the scoring zones and not able to create pressure with the rush.
On the power play, the Penguins utilize the neutral zone drop pass to the late man joining the rush. That player normally has a few options, depending on the penalty killing formation. The Penguins also like to utilize the pass to the left wing with a give-and-go pass with Evgeni Malkin or to lug the puck with that entry player.
The Flyers eliminated that entirely last night, packing the neutral zone, and preventing clean entries. It was most prominent during their third power-play opportunity. Three penalty killing Flyers bottled up the blue-line, while one aggressively tracked the puck in the zone. The formation gave the Penguins fits and disrupted chances to enter the zone and get set up offensively. Sustained zone time for the Penguins came from forcing turnovers, not off of the rush.
Look for additional puck support in Game 3. Particularly more give-and-go passes from forward to forward in the neutral zone to break up the defensive structure in the middle and get the middle man to bite.
On the occasions the Penguins did enter the zone cleanly, the Flyers forced turnovers and made quick decisions with the puck. Travis Konecny capitalized on the Flyers solid defensive work with his third period goal:
On the Konecny goal, Valterri Filppula forced a turnover from Patric Hornqvist on the wall and Carl Hagelin saw that both defensemen were behind the net. Hagelin’s subtle move to the slot left the trapezoid unattended, which allowed the play to develop. That isn’t often a development of a goal allowed, but on a night the Penguins couldn’t catch a break it was. Wayne Simmonds completed a nice chip off the boards through the pinching defense and the rest is history.
These situations can be avoided with more structure and better puck management. On the sequence above, Malkin looked to take the pass in the corner instead of helping on the boards. One potential solution is if Malkin crashed and takes inside position, that creates a two on one battle on the boards with Chad Ruhwedel at the point with only Konecny defending the potential pass to the point. Worst case scenario in that situation, Konecny creates the turnover and Ruhwedel has a better angle to make a defensive play.
Also, Malkin abandoned the middle of the ice which only left Ruhwedel to defend after the Oleksiak pinch. He was too deep in his end during the Flyers breakout. Either scenario could have halted transition for the Flyers.
Philadelphia coach, Dave Hakstol admitted after the game that his team got a few bounces in their favor. He’s right. The puck had eyes that donned orange and black glasses. However, this defensive structure remains interesting. The Penguins struggled with it at times when Washington went to it two weeks ago, and it did again.