Boston Bruins v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Two

The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a problem.

Wait– that probably doesn’t come off right in text form.

The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have A problem. The Pittsburgh Penguins have problems. Like, we’re talking Jay-Z numbers, up around the 99 range. And despite the fact that, much like the aforementioned rapper, a “b***h” counts for zero of them, that total is enough to be cause for concern.

When your team has so many issues that you’re not sure where to start and it’s not the pre-season, I’m of the mind that it’s time to give the other team some credit. The Boston Bruins went into Pittsburgh and dismantled them. They walked in on a bomb and diffused it without so much as sweating a drop and they had excess time to spare. And for that, they have team discipline to thank.

Discipline, for a hockey team, can mean a lot of things. Coaches talk about getting players to “buy in,” which basically means “give up what you’re instincts are telling you on the defensive side of the puck, and actually do what we’re asking you to do.” Most players have the defensive instincts of a dog chasing a tennis ball. “PUCKPUCKPUCK THERE’STHEPUCKOMG PUCKPUCKPUCK.” When things aren’t going well it’s easy to step out of the system and chase it. But when things are working, it just reinforces behaviour that makes your team tougher to play. “Hey, if I just stand here, the puck comes to me a lot.”

Boston’s making it hard on Pittsburgh by being disciplined in a number of different areas.

Positional discipline

As I was getting at above, the Bruins have been crazy reliable in their positional play in the first two games. Pittsburgh’s offense is the type that made the coach from the previous series say “I just hope they don’t charge us for the clinic they put on,” so Boston knew to have any hope, they’d have to minimize their offensive output. The plan was never to give up a single goal in two games – the expectation is that Pittsburgh is going to create that in their sleep – but you stick to your position and make the Pens go through layers every time they have the puck and pray that’s good enough. They did that, had some success early, and have only gotten stronger positionally as the series has moved on.

Retalitory/extracurricular discipline

Methinks the Bruins reputation preceded them in this series. It looks to me like the Penguins assumed that their reputation would precede them, so the Bruins would run them all over the rink and they’d have to pass The Punk Test to get past the B’s. Seriously, they came out – Sid and Malkin included, obviously – thinking it was going to be a flex-off, the Bruins came out playing hockey, and everyone was confused by what was happening.

Still, the Bruins didn’t suddenly flip the switch and start playing Gladiator with the Pens. They didn’t have to do anything more to get them not playing hockey, which is the most amazing best case scenario thing you could have happen from a skill team. Pittsburgh did it to themselves, in advance of puck drop.

Penalties

Boston knows that Pittsburgh has the talent to make it happen on the man-advantage, so it’s possible that’s why they came out trying to play hockey instead of getting vicious and trading powerplays. Last night they took one penalty before the third period (when the game was over, so the refs tossed the Pens a couple token ones), which is a smart way to play against the Penguins.

Back-pressure

You don’t have to backcheck when you have numbers. If there’s a two-on-two heading towards your d-zone, your guys have got this, all you technically need to do is not let a third player beat you up ice and you won’t get yelled at. BUT. But if you want, you can get on your horse, drive your legs, and make life far more difficult on the rushing forwards by providing back-pressure. That kills their option of using a delay inside the blue to wait for help, forces them to just put the puck in deep, or in the case of the Penguins, stubbornly refuse to do so and turn it over. The Bruins are making a clear effort to work hard through the neutral zone to help their D.

And with that discipline comes success, and with that success comes more discipline, and with that comes a game last night where it looked like Pittsburgh couldn’t do a damn thing right.

SO.

Is that it for the Penguins? Are we excusing them because their opponent is playing sound hockey?

F*** and no, obviously. Some questions I have for the Penguins:

Dan Bylsma

I realize you’d be a fool to have this much talent on your roster and not set it free. When you have this much offensive ability you have to allow them to make some mistakes, because with that chance-taking comes killer chance-creation. But there has to be some adjustment for the Penguins. You can’t repeatedly be the playoff team who can give up six on any given night, suspect goaltending or not.

I believe that he probably let’s them do as they want offensively, which with risk-reward players is going to result in some games where you score six, and some where you give-up six. And in their case, it happens more for them than their opponent. But it wouldn’t kill him to ask guys to be more careful with the puck. Which leads me into…

Puck support

There was a comment on CBC last night by Elliotte Friedman where he observed something I had tweeted about too – the Penguins had no puck support. They skated away from each other on even-man rushes, and they never once chipped the puck behind a d-man while a teammate skated onto the puck, which is mind-blowing considering how great the Bruins gap control was last night. Bylsma was forced to play some line bingo, drawing numbers at random, but that’s no excuse to abandon basic help and play as three individuals.

But further to that point…

Puck protection

Elliotte also said something like “nobody’s with Crosby, what’s he supposed to do?” I can tell you what he’s supposed to do sure as hell isn’t throw a low-percentage pass through the middle to the other team. If you don’t have support, if you’re being pressured, you put the puck deep and get after it. Coaches hate turnovers within five feet of either side of either blue-line. It kills your chance at sustaining any pressure, and kills your chance of eliminating it at your own end.

Crosby made a terrible decision at the blue to start the game (the Marchand goal), and he didn’t improve over the next 59 minutes and 30 seconds. He turned solid possession into a Bruins rush no less than 10 times last night (I don’t know what the actual stats say, but I guarantee that was a reality).

And finally…

The goaltending

Obviously you can’t start Marc-Andre Fleury tomorrow night. The Bruins fourth goal, the Marchand shot, has to has to has to be stopped. It was a well-placed shot, but stoppable, and at that moment in that game, you need a stop. And the sixth…well, as I tweeted “Can’t fault Fleury on that Boychuck goal. No chance on those unscreened shots perfectly placed in the middle of the net from the far boards.” (Yeah that’s sarcasm.)

And Vokoun was bad too. I see a lot of “can’t fault hims” going on out there – you’re rarely allowed to with goalies, or something – But yes you can. It’s okay to expect your starting NHL goalie to get you some saves, and not give up any freebies like the Bruins second.

But you go back to Vokoun, because Fleury is a headcase right now. I think he can get it together again some day, but for now, he gets to watch.

***

All in all, this was one of the most lopsided, unexpected playoff games I’ve watched in a long time. I expected Pittsburgh to come out firing.

The question now is if they can overcome this adversity and pull it together. My biggest concern is that this was a shortened season where they made deadline acquisitions, and not for small personalities. Are they at the point where they’re comfortable telling one another the truth? When I wrote “5 reasons the Penguins deadline deals could be bad for them” after they happened, I wondered if it there were too many chiefs and not enough indians, to use a probably-politically-incorrect phrase. Can this team with multiple captains who don’t know each other all that well find a way to pull in the same direction? As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

The Pens have two days to try to right some of these wrongs. The Bruins are in their head now, and it’s on this teams leaders to get them out.

Comments (23)

  1. I’ve said it for weeks: The Pens are an extremely talented, but flawed team, while Boston is built for the playoffs. The Pens have been a paper tiger all year long. Yeah, it’s impressive when they run up the score every few games, but they just don’t play the disciplined defensive hockey that wins championships. Now down 2-0, you’ve gotta bet that Crosby and Malkin are gripping their sticks a little tighter and taking more risks to score…that creates opportunities for the Bruins.

  2. The worst thing was the rhetoric from the Pens players & coaches. after game 1 sounds exactly like the rhetoric after game 2.

    Which sounds a LOT like they don’t know how to change/fix the problems. Or even know what the actual problems are.

    • They don’t know how to change it and probably can’t change it. The team is built all wrong. They do not have a lot of two way forwards, they do not have a starting goalie that they can rely on, and the answer to everything is to make more and more “pretty” plays. You win championships by playing a structured, disciplined defensive game and gutting out ugly goals however you can get them. The Pens try harder and harder to do something amazing and wind up turning over the puck. The Pens need an off-season philosophical change. They need to realize that a boatload of star forwards will only win them a cup if they all get hot (and stay hot) at the same time. It’s telling that one of the biggest heroes from their cup championship was Rob Scuderi. They don’t have any Rob Scuderi’s these days.

  3. Go B!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Glad to see Julien is getting some respect. Everything you bring up here is in the Bruins game plan to disrupt the Pens, force them to make mistakes, and take advantage of those mistakes. Disciplined defense is a coaching skill. It has been actually hard for Bruin’s fan to buy into Julien’s system. It’s not glorious or flashy. Back pressure doesn’t bring you to your feet. There are no horns or dancing associated with being in the right position. The Boston media has crucified him for the lack of goal scoring and stubbornness to stay with his system. Julien was even knocked by his own management when Neely stated that you can’t win a hockey game 0 to 0.

    The dump and forecheck and his neutral zone what-ever-its-called is excruciating to watch and wait for the turnover or the opponent’s defensive lapses to make an offensive move. Even after watching the Bruins defeat the Lightening and Canucks in 2011 it was hard to acknowledge that the defense over shadowed the offense. Now that we are seeing it again and that Julien is more resolute in his system, it still hard to believe this works.

    But the Pens seem to be very thick headed to continually pound their head against the Bruins defense. What can they do, learn to play defense in the Conference Championships? No they have to attack the way they know how and hope the Bruins lose their discipline.

  5. As always, a succinct and incisive analysis, JB – In full agreement with everything written.

    The Bruins have shown the kind of poise that wins championships – The Pens have made “rattled and panicky” their trademark (over the past couple of games.)

    The next two are the Bruins’ to lose, though I doubt they will – Their discipline has lead to success and has (as you’ve already noted) established a virtuous-cycle; a positive-feedback loop. Hats-off to Claude Julien, for the job he and his staff have been doing.

    In order to steal at least one game (in Boston) the Penguins will need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Their high-octane identity has allowed to stray from sound fundamentals, and they’ve been sorely exploited for it.

  6. Ok. I probably watched – very intently watched – 40-50 Pens games this year.

    Now, I don’t recall Sid giving the puck away more than 3 or 4 times all year. Sure, he loses a few battles a game, but 9 times out of 10 he’ll escape with the puck, like magic. Maybe once a month, or two, he’d put the puck on the stick of an opponent. Last night, EVERY SHIFT he’s giving away the puck, sometimes more than once on the same shift, and losing all the battles. Worst game I’ve ever seen him play and I’ve been watching him since he was 13.

    Also, the whole team played horrible except for Cooke, and Bylsma is getting embarrassingly out-coached, IMO.

    • Well for all of u bruins fan’s,1st,Hockey is our game Windsor Nova Scotia.It was not meant to be a fighting contest.Show some respect for our game,We send Boston a TREE every yr, goodness of our heart’s, you hv the prev of playing our game,treat it with some respect.Stop fighting,set a good example for the young gen coming into this SPORT.As for the Pen’s they will come on top,they play as hockey player’s should.Give up on the fighting, not pretty at all. I am a true fan of the Pen’s. They will surprise all of u wacth and see.Fro Nova Scotia.

      • Come again? In English this time..

      • Whatever – Leafs had the most fighting majors this year. It was the Pens who came out in game 1 acting like they had to physically intimidate – not the bruins. Bs play tough physical hockey, and they don’t let little rat bastards get away with BS. I think that’s a pretty good lesson to young kids. Would you rather they bite people (Vancouver), head hunt (Cooke – in Pittsburgh)? Watch a game or two.

      • Goodness of your heart? More accurately as thanks for Boston sending you copious aid in the wake of disaster back in the day out of the goodness of our hearts.

        Funny bit is, the top fighters are almost all Canadians, not Americans;

      • Why are you responding to me? I’m from Nova Scotia too, as is Sid and hey what do you know, Brad Marchand too.

  7. Aren’t you boys over your ‘skill’ crush yet. Annoyed that so many say Pitts is a skill team and the Bs just grind. It’s just different skills. If you’ve been watching the Bs – blind backhand pass from Horton to DK after toying w/ Eaton on the boards…. Tick-tack-goal last night including a b/w the legs drop pass from Looch… Marchand’s snipes… Time to actually talk Bruins and not just ‘what’s wrong with the Pens’ as if this series is up to them to win or lose. Pens are a compilation of names competing with each other for highlights and press. Bs are a T E A M!

  8. Jesus JB, I dont think you could have hit this nail any squarer on the head. Cripes. I think the Pens extreme talent level has allowed them to hide flaws – and they’ve been exposed, yet again, in the post-season. The organizational mindset has to change or post-season results never will.

    So depressing to feel, to be forced to face, that the Pens do NOT seem to be who we thought they were. So yes, system-wide changes are in order. However, the one caveat is that circumstances over the last few seasons have not allowed for any true consistency or chemistry to develop offensively, or at least not for long periods of time, and there are no real defensive stalwarts on the team any more. Goaltending has blown up, and it pains me to say this, I don’t think Dan is up to the coaching challenges he’s been presented with.

    Young, supremely talented players and coach who lack the maturity to see beyond their vision and recognize what’s necessary for long haul success. Disappointing and so, so painful (esp in light of the talent level that’s present).

  9. ‘Most players have the defensive instincts of a dog chasing a tennis ball. “PUCKPUCKPUCK THERE’STHEPUCKOMG PUCKPUCKPUCK.” ‘

    Awesome! funniest thing I’ll read this week. thanks JB!

  10. So, don’t care much for the bomb analogy, otherwise good piece.

  11. Justin
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