Is Puck Management The Penguins Achilles?
There’s never a good time to turn the puck over.
That being said, some places are a lot worse than others.
On a night where they had a chance to take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division (pending the outcome of Rangers/Wild), the Penguins laid an egg in front of their home crowd, losing to the New York Islanders at home for the first time in 4 years.
The Penguins, from the very start of the game, took a bit of a lackadaisical approach to the game. While they were able to pull even in the second, and although they ended up with 50 plus shots on net for the night, poor puck management haunted the Penguins throughout the night and created a plethora of chances for the stodgy Islanders.
Brooks Orpik, as usual, was very frank in his analysis of the Penguins game.
“I think the approach, and trying to out-score teams rather than out-defend teams is catching up with us right now.”
“The last 5 or 6 games we’ve given up a lot of scoring chances. Some nights you get away with it, some nights you don’t. In the playoffs, we won’t get away with it.”
Dan Bylsma added a bit of depth to Orpik’s post-game assessment of the team.
“We’re lax with the puck, thinking that we can turn almost every play into an offensive chance and not take care of the puck and how we manage it. It’s turned into a lot of odd-man situations back against us. We saw that again tonight.”
Bob Errey spent a second in-game discussing this, and it’s worth highlighting what happened on the Islanders 5th goal of the night.
In the instance highlighted below, the black X represents Arron Asham as he attempts to get the puck deep in the Islanders zone in the face of pressure while the Penguins are changing behind the play.
The red arrow indicates where Asham was going with this puck initially. The Penguins were changing, the D was out of position, and Asham should have made the safe play to get the puck deep and provide token pressure down low.
Instead, Asham makes a read. He sees that he has forward help immediately to his right. The Islanders D has stepped up in Asham’s face and the Penguins forwards and defense have no established speed whatsoever.
Rather than dump the puck in as the red arrow indicates, Asham attempts to dangle into the zone and utilize the forward help to his left. The result is a turnover, and the Isles quickly counter in the face of an opportunity that has presented itself as a result of a line change.
As you can see, Paul Martin is far away from his zone at this point. He has no chance to cover the deep pass. In fact, Martin didn’t even have a defensive partner to assist him. Craig Adams, who was moving forward through the neutral zone, was the only other player back to assist.
Asham has turned the puck over and now the Islanders are on the attack.
As Dan Bylsma mentioned, trying to turn every routine play into a scoring opportunity is a sure fire way to end up on the short end of the stick.
The result is below. Look at the Islanders forwards. They are ahead of the Penguins defense ready to come into the zone. Paul Martin is just entering the play. Craig Adams hasn’t even turned around yet. The other defenseman is seen at the top of the screen, below the 4 on the scoreboard, still trying to get into the play.
A simple dump-in would have prevented this entire sequence.
For the Penguins, the excitement of a roster that has finally bolstered it’s offensive lineup fully and has a plethora of 20 goal scorers as taken away the simple plays and the patience required to win tight games.
Sidney Crosby probably summed it up best.
“Whether it’s the way we manage the puck or the mistakes we make in other areas, you just can’t let that happen. We got what we deserved tonight.”
Knowing Dan Bylsma, we should expect to see the Penguins in top form on Thursday night in the Nassau Coliseum.
The good news is, every flaw can be fixed, and sometimes it takes games like last night’s to jar a team into the right mindset.