Special Teams Help Penguins Even Series

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who played a disastrous game in the series opener against the New York Rangers, proved that they are not out of the fight as the team defeated the Blueshirts 4-3 and evened the series Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

It was a much better all-around performance by the Penguins. The team was more poised and was able to control the puck, as well as the tone of the game. But where they really excelled was in the defensive zone. While it took both teams nearly seven minutes into the game to record a shot on goal, the Penguins limited the Rangers to only three shots in the opening period.

How? Their sticks were always on the ground. Pittsburgh did an outstanding job of cutting off shooting lanes and poking the puck away. The Rangers had a tough time connecting passing sequences together because one Penguin was always there to break it up. This type of defense stifled many of the Rangers’ offensive threats and was the reason for their success on the penalty kill.

There are a few things the Penguins still need to improve on if they want to make it past the New York Rangers, the most pertinent being staying out of the box. The Penguins were shorthanded seven times throughout the game. It didn’t happen all in the first period like in Game 1, but their lack of discipline is disconcerting.

“Absolutely too many penalties,” Ian Cole said. “I mean, I took two of them. Without a doubt too many penalties.”

It’s a good thing that the Penguins are so good on the PK—and that the Rangers power play has been their greatest weakness. The Penguins killed off five penalties in the first two periods before allowing the Rangers to notch a power-play goal in the third. The team finished the night 1-for-7 on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s ability to limit the Rangers shots and time in the offensive zone enabled them to stay in the game, while also increasing the frustration of the Blueshirts. It gave their team a boost and deflated the Rangers morale.

The successful penalty kill wasn’t the only reason the Penguins prevailed; the team went 2-for-4 on the power play—igniting their offense, which has been lacking of late. The team has struggled to score in the last few weeks of the regular season, which is strange as the team has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Even in Game 1, the Penguins could not find the back of the net. Finally, Crosby and the rest of the Penguins were able to notch a few at even strength and on the man-advantage.

“Special teams are such a big key in the playoffs and I can’t say enough good things about the penalty kill in front of me, blocking shots and helping me around the net,” Marc-Andre Fleury stated. “The PP came up big with two goals. That’s the difference between winning and losing.”

If the Penguins can stay out of the box and continue to use their special teams as catalysts for their offense then they might just have a shot at making it to the second round. They’ll be on home ice for the next two games, which is the perfect setting for Pittsburgh to extend its one-game winning streak.