Sidney Crosby didn’t mention the New York Islanders fourth line which swamped the Penguins top line. Nor did Sidney Crosby mention the lack of space, defensive miscues or the raucous crowd in the old Nassau Coliseum. For Crosby, Game 2 is about getting out of the defensive zone and getting on the attack.
The numbers from Game 1 were not pretty. In fact, the numbers were uglier than any monster or zombie Tom Savini ever created. At even strength, the line had only two shots, none in the scoring zones and just one scoring chance.
One scoring chance. For Sidney Crosby’s line.
“We just didn’t do a good job of getting out of our zone. If you’re spending half your shift there, you don’t have a lot of energy to go the other way and do things there,” Crosby said. “So we have to execute coming out of our zone and give ourselves a chance to create things offensively.”
The Penguins wingers on the top line, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust had their hands full trying to win puck battles against the New York fourth line with Matt Martin, Casey Czikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Without the puck, the Penguins top line was forced to chase and play in the defensive zone.
It’s too simplistic to say if Crosby’s line must beat the fourth line. First, the New York line is the fourth line in name only. There is a reason why the Islanders fourth line is generally the highest paid bottom line in the league; they’re physical and effective. Czikas scored a career-high 20 goals in the regular season. They win puck battles and they are able to defend the best in the league.
“I thought they did a good job of keeping pucks in the zone, getting their cycle game going and getting physical,” Crosby said when asked specifically about the New York fourth line. “That’s their game. We know that.”
“But we’ve got to do a better job getting out of our end and when we do get into their zone create more.”
And Crosby went right back to the breakouts and playing with the puck. As PHN detailed earlier this morning, the Penguins collectively were not happy with their breakouts against the tenacious and aggressive New York forecheck. However, the Penguins top line especially had difficulty wresting the puck from their opponents to transition to offense.
That is in large part due to the physical disparity between the lines.
“It’s a playoff series. It’s physical, it’s tough. Give them credit,” Crosby said.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan can do more to get Crosby away from those sworn to defend against him. Sullivan could also shuffle the lines to add a more physical presence on the line to help with those battles on the wall or break up the cycle game.
Or Guentzel and Rust will need to bring a lunch pale and grind it out with their opponents, at least until they’re able to tilt the ice. That may be a task which takes a long time and spends a lot of energy. New York is built for that battle. The Penguins will need to be quicker, too.
In 37 career playoff games, Jake Guentzel has 42 points (23g, 19a). Guentzel had 21 points (10g, 11a) in the Penguins 12 playoff games last season, too.
In 160 playoff games, Crosby has a whopping 185 points (66g, 119a).
In short, the Penguins will need to do whatever it takes to get Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel in the offensive zone. That seems to be Crosby’s focus, too.