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Penguins’ Defensive Breakdown: What Happened on GWG?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins

BOSTON — It should have been simple. There were five Pittsburgh Penguins in a defending position against just three attacking Boston Bruins. Yet, in a flash, the Penguins’ advantage became a disadvantage, and Taylor Hall had a clear path to the net while Jake DeBrusk went to the net.

DeBrusk buried Hall’s rebound for his second goal of the period and the game-winner in Boston’s 2-1 victory with just over two minutes remaining.

Hall made a nice move to deke Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, who made a clutch save, but neither Hall nor DeBrusk should have gotten the chance.

Here’s what went wrong:

1) This screenshot would make most coaches smile. All five Penguins are in position, with four lined up on the blue line waiting to engulf the encroaching Bruins. (Blame the NHL for the blurry video).

Pittsburgh Penguins


PROBLEMS: This is the perfect setup for the Penguins, but you’ll also notice the defensemen already caving into David Krejci with the puck. With numbers, Jason Zucker (top of the screen) could have been played a tighter gap.

You’ll also notice Chad Ruhwedel is looking toward Krejci and DeBruck, not Taylor Hall (No. 71, bottom of the screen).

2) Now, here, it looks complicated, but don’t get overwhelmed. If the Penguins played a man-to-man defense like Carolina, Malkin would have covered Taylor Hall, and the defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel, Brian Dumoulin) would have provided the backup.

But the Penguins play more zone coverage. The Penguins had superior numbers and had Bryan Rust over the top, so it should have been fine.

Ruhwedel, as the right defenseman, is responsible for preventing Hall from getting clean access to the net. Depending on the Penguins’ “details” (those vary from team to team), Evgeni Malkin (bottom of the screen) can interrupt Jake DeBrusk’s center-drive or stay with Hall.

Both would have worked.

Instead, all hell broke loose. Malkin cut toward Krejci with the puck, so both Malkin and Zucker converged on him.

DeBrusk flew past Malkin and Brian Dumoulin (Dumoulin tripped), leaving DeBrusk largely uncovered. And Ruhwedel never slid over to take Hall with the puck on the wing.

So, Hall and DeBrusk were unattended near the Penguins’ net.

Pittsburgh Penguins


Here’s how it played out.

You can see it’s basically a two-on-one, and Ruhwedel is caught. Dumoulin falls. Malkin, Zucker, and Rust are caught high in the zone.

If any of the four Penguins on the blue line made a better play, the goal doesn’t happen.

Pittsburgh Penguins


Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.