Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made a point of saying he would not disclose most of the strategy adjustments he and he team discussed Monday during a team meeting that substituted for practice.
Guessing which areas might have been broached is probably futile; anyone who is honest would likely agree there are many areas that needed to be addressed given the Penguins’ shortcomings in falling into a 3-0 hole in their first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
The Islanders will be trying for a sweep Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
One aspect that certainly could have been on the Penguins’ agenda was their play along the wall, down low and in the neutral zone – specifically, getting beat to the puck during this series in situations where they were better at gaining or maintaining puck possession during the season.
The Islanders ability to outplay the Penguins in those areas has led to turnovers and scoring chances for the Islanders and a lot of one-and-done trips to the Islanders’ end for the Penguins.
Team captain Sidney Crosby, who has been called by Sullivan and others one of the best players down low and who is adept at feeding off it when he or his teammates are able to win puck battles along the wall, frankly couldn’t offer a lot of hope that the Penguins have a plan to improve in those areas for Game 4.
“That’s the playoffs. It’s tough,” Crosby said when asked specifically about the team’s dip in efficiency along the wall and down low. “They’re competing hard. You’re not going to be perfect in every area. There’s no team that is.
“It’s a matter of getting those timely goals or big plays. Those are always the difference-makers. All those little details add up. … We’ve got to find a way to be better in that area.”
As for the minefield that is the neutral zone, Crosby can envision the answers, even if the Penguins haven’t been able to follow through on them regularly.
“I don’t think we have to be more aggressive or less aggressive,” Crosby said. “I think it comes down to, one, managing the puck through there on our own when we have it, and (two), defending, making sure that we make the right reads and make sure we back each other up so that if there is a mistake it doesn’t lead to a clear-cut two-on-one.”
Sullivan somewhat surprisingly downplayed his team’s struggles in the neutral zone, although he conceded the Islanders routinely clog that area defensively, and that defensive stance can lead to chances the other way.
“I’m not so sure we’re having trouble getting the puck to or through the neutral zone,” Sullivan said. “The challenge is the Islanders – and it’s part of their game plan – they have numbers back. We knew that going in. They were the No. 1 team in the league in the least amount of odd-man rushes against in the regular season. I think there’s a direct correlation there to keeping the goals against down.”