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Bring Back The Stretch Pass

April 17, 2015, 8:56 AM ET [346 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
It is what it is. The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped Game 1 of their series to the New York Rangers by a score of 2-1.

The Rangers speed was on full display bottling up Pittsburgh throughout the game.

There just is not enough skill or skating on the back end to contribute effectively towards controlled zone exits. Without the controlled zone exits you do not have speed in the neutral zone which in turn means you do not have controlled entries.

That means everything the Penguins generate is going to have to come from chasing down loose pucks. Over the course of a playoff series that is going to absolutely kill them from an energy standpoint.

Given their inability to generate speed through the neutral zone they might have to adjust their strategy. Most Penguins fans are not going to want to hear my suggestion.

The dreaded stretch pass.

I love the change that Mike Johnston brought with his X’s and O’s this year, specifically on their breakout. But most of what Johnston wants to do is predicated on skilled defensemen setting the table for all of it to happen. The Rangers are incredibly quick and even a guy like Paul Martin is unable to execute what is needed from him. You have two AHL guys in a bottom pairing and then Ben Lovejoy/Rob Scuderi each taking a spot in the other two pairings. It may be time to dumb down the gameplan as frustrating as that sounds. You need to play to the strengths of the players you have and unfortunately right now for Pittsburgh those strengths aren’t skill related.

Simple basic boring hockey mixed in with some lucky bounces is what the Penguins need right now.

The less this current defense corp. has to skate and handle the puck the better.

The good news is that they do have two players with the potential of coming back into the lineup that will help alleviate these issues. The Penguins desperately need Christian Ehrhoff and they could certainly use Derrick Pouliot’s skating and puck skills as well. Paul Martin cannot do this by himself and isn’t doing it by himself. When those two players come back then Mike Johnston’s current system will have a chance of more success.

Aside from the health of their roster (which they can’t control) they need to focus on the things they can control. One big example would be not taking penalties, specifically four penalties in the first period. I have my reservations about the team’s ability to refrain from taking penalties seeing as though they had the second most minors in all the entire NHL (349). Only Winnipeg had more with (372).

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin need to play. In the rare situation where there are tons of penalties against the team Mike Johnston needs to sprinkle them into penalty killing duties. Penalty killing isn’t a specialty. It is probably one of the more simplistic parts of hockey. Which is also probably why so many bad even strength players can be specialists at it. Play the “hockey specialists” if the situation dictates to do so. Who knows you may even draw a penalty.

Marc-Andre Fleury started off very poorly but ultimately gave the Penguins a quality start, something that he has not done a lot of in the playoffs in recent memory. Fleury finished with a .947 save percentage on the evening. It is imperative for the Penguins chances for him to continue playing at last night’s level. Probably not a realistic expectation but if you are going to upset a really good team those are the kinds of things that have to happen.

Overall the Rangers controlled the play at even strength

Pittsburgh’s fourth line did an alright job last night. I haven’t said that too many times this year. Brandon Sutter, Daniel Winnik, and Chris Kunitz need to do better. The latter two especially if they are going to spend time with the big boys in the top six.

So positives moving forward include:

Ehrhoff and Pouliot will help out a lot and Pittsburgh will be able to play with more speed and skill as a result.

Despite a very crumby opening goal by Fleury he played really well.

Geno looks like he is moving well out there.

Losing Game 1 on the road to the team favored to win the series is not a death sentence.

Thanks for reading!

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