It will be a short turnaround from the Pittsburgh Penguins Game 2 loss Friday night to the puck drop for Game 3. The lessons learned will be fresh but the Penguins situation dire. The scrappy underdog New York Islanders with help from bad ice and their rowdy fans which echoed throughout the old Nassau Coliseum earned a commanding 2-0 series lead.
New York’s forecheck overwhelmed the Penguins in Game 1. The Penguins struggled with breakouts and zone exits, yet still managed to fire more than 40 shots on goal during regulation. The Penguins managed 33 shots on net in Game 2 but team leaders Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang each felt the team avoided being pinned down by the forecheck in Game 2.
“Well, I think we did a really good job last game of doing that. There wasn’t a lot of zone time for either team. There was a lot of (play) in the neutral zone,” Crosby said in response to Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s question.
Crosby’s sentiment has some truth. In Game 1, the Crosby lines generated a lonely one scoring chance. In Game 2, Crosby’s lines outchanced New York 8-4.
That’s not a ton of chances for a player like Crosby, but by all accounts, offensive zone time was a precious commodity. The New York system–a 1-1-3–which simultaneously pressures the puck on the forecheck but also provides ample numbers back has stifled the series to New York’s benefit.
“I think we’ve got to have the puck more. When you look at the zone time, it is down on both sides relative to the numbers that we’re accustomed to, game in and game out,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
New York has challenged Letang with their forecheck and physicality. In the first two games, scorekeepers hung nine turnovers on Letang (four in Game 1, five in Game 2). The Penguins lead defenseman is no stranger to risky plays and turnovers. With great rewards often comes great risks.
Letang also quickly refuted the notion the Penguins struggled with the New York forecheck in Game 2 and they would have to hasten their breakouts and be cleaner.
“I think that’s what we did in Game 2. I think their forecheck in Game 1 was really effective. It gave us a lot of trouble,” Letang said. “We looked at the video and realized we did pretty well coming out of our zone with tape to tape plays.”
New York still had an edge on scoring chances and high danger scoring chances, at least for the first 55 minutes. With a two-goal lead, New York defended in the final minutes which slightly skewed the final numbers.
“For me, what it means is to get out of your zone in control or give your forward a chance to establish their forecheck,” Letang said.
After Game 2, Evgeni Malkin subtly ripped the ice surface at Nassau Coliseum. Visibly, pucks are bouncing which favors the team playing a more simple game; that is rarely the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have received a wake-up call courtesy of the New York Islanders gritty, no-frills game.
“I think it’s just that’s executing and making passes if they’re there, if not winning those battles on the walls in order to get the puck,” Crosby said.
Some things are easier said than done. The Crosby line has frequently been matched against the New York fourth line which excels along the wall and being physical. The New York line isn’t tasked with scoring, simply stopping Crosby and company from scoring.
“Both teams didn’t have a lot of zone time last game and sometimes that’s where games are played,” said Crosby. “But you still have to go out there and shoot.”