The Pittsburgh Penguins, who were at one time Stanley Cup favorites, suddenly find themselves facing extremely long odds in their series against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins came out extremely impressive in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-0 victory, but even that strong performance pales in comparison to last night’s 6-1 beat down that the Bruins gave to Pittsburgh. The series is only 2 games old, but already Boston has scored 9 of the first 10 goals in the series despite playing the first 2 games on the road.
While the Bruins have looked strong and composed, the Penguins have looked disjointed and lazy, leaving many wondering what has gone wrong with the top-seeded team from the east. Were the Penguins over-rated? Did they add too much too quickly at the trade deadline? One thing we know for sure, poor goaltending has finally caught up to Pittsburgh.
Marc-Andre Fleury, a former Stanley Cup winner, was benched midway through the first round of the playoffs against the New York Islanders, the team choosing instead to go with Thomas Vokoun, who had been acquired during the offseason to add stability between the pipes. And for a time, it seemed Vokoun was exactly the solution that the Penguins needed. A 7-0-1 record through his first 8 starts saw the Penguins advance all the way to the conference finals where they would meet the Boston Bruins. Vokoun looked shaky in game 1, suffering a 3-0 loss despite facing fewer shots than his counterpart for the Bruins, Tuukka Rask. But the team would again place their confidence in Vokoun, giving him a chance to redeem himself with another start in game 2. That chance would be squandered.
The Bruins scored early and often, netting 3 goals before the first period had expired. The Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma, made the decision to again switch goalies, hoping Fleury could come in relief of Vokoun and allow the Penguins to get back in the game. It didn’t work. The Bruins scored 3 more on Fleury, including one on the very first shot he faced.
But the problem in this series hasn’t been all on the goalies. The highly touted Penguins offense has managed only one goal thus far in the series, and their defense has been non-existent. So what is the solution? Is there anything the Penguins can do to get back in this series?
Yes. Simplify the game. Right now, you have too many players operating individually, trying to do too much, and that needs to change. The defense needs to be more responsible in transition, and they need to own the front of their net. Play as a 5 man unit on defense, and wait patiently for the appropriate time to breakout. Right now, the confidence on this team has to be at an all time low, especially for whoever gets the start in net in game 3. The best thing they can do as a team is to keep themselves in a game long enough for their offense to break through – something a team with this much talent is perfectly capable of doing.
As always, this series wont be over until someone wins 4 games. But will the Penguins be able to turn things around soon enough to have a chance? Its going to be a challenge for sure, and we’ll see soon enough if the Penguins are up to it.