FF Telestrator: Game 23 vs. Lightning
It’s not often that you say a team that is coming off of a win needs a rebound game, but that was the situation for the Penguins on Monday night as they played host to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Having allowed 6 goals against versus the Canadiens on Saturday, the Penguins wanted to come out with a focused defensive effort against a Lightning team that features one of the best players in the game and current adversary to Sidney Crosby’s hold on the league lead in points, Steven Stamkos.
Before we get to the defensive aspect, let’s take a moment to acknowledge what Chris Kunitz is doing for the Penguins. After his performance in Montreal Saturday, if you averaged out Kunitz point total, it projected to about 103 points in 82 games. I’ll admit I rarely use projection-type statistics for players, but those are some significantly impressive numbers.
Kunitz is either showing off his chemistry for Sidney Crosby, or he’s taking a page out of the book of James Neal.
Off of a faceoff, Kunitz chips a puck in to Crosby, who will begin working over Steven Stamkos in the boards. Stamkos is good at a lot of things, but being defensively apt enough to shut down Sidney Crosby on the wall all by himself is not one of them.
The orange space denotes where Kunitz is going to head to get this puck. The key here is both time and space. Kunitz gives himself a nice soft area where Crosby can not only find him easily, but where he can rip a one-timer off on net without it getting blocked.
There are a couple of key things to take from this still. On one hand, Kunitz is finding his open space in a way that was mastered by James Neal on the power-play, he’s simply drifting. He’s not skating with a purpose here. He’s letting his momentum draw him backwards into the soft area of the ice.
On top of that, he’s got eye contact with Crosby. He’s not only getting himself open, he’s communicating without words here. Crosby knows what Kunitz is doing, and he’s going to look for that pass first chance he gets.
Let’s not discount the role that Pascal Dupuis has in this sequence. I circled him down low going right in front of the net. Cory Conacher has to be cognizant of Dupuis down low, this opens up a little bit of space later on.
Crosby wheels off of Stamkos towards the middle of the ice. What do you notice about every single Tampa Bay player in this clip? They are all staring at Sidney Crosby. No one has Kunitz marked. Away from the play, Dupuis is posted up in front of the cage putting a great screen on the goaltender.
Here’s Garon’s viewpoint of this play. He has virtually no visual on the puck when it’s fired by Kunitz. It was in the net before Garon even knew a shot was fired.
Great players know how find their teammates. But it takes a special kind of guy to appreciate that and make himself available to get shots like this.
Now, let’s take a look at the bad.
If the Penguins want to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, they had better start paying close attention to the area highlighted in orange. The Penguins have been abused in front of their own net this week, and with Philadelphia coming up on the schedule this Thursday, things aren’t going to get any easier.
Here’s the start of the first Stamkos goal. Not a bad start, right? The Lightning have three players rushing up ice, Stamkos with the puck, the Penguins D has a good gap, and Dupuis is on the backcheck.
Okay, things are still pretty good here. You have Dupuis on the hip of the player driving wide. Stamkos dishes the puck wide and is going to head straight to the net.
Here’s where the issue begins for me. This is STEVEN STAMKOS.
Someone has to mark this guy. He’s about to head right to an area where goals are scored, and he’s an elite goal scorer.
Here’s where the red seas part. Orpik drops to one knee to prevent a pass. Which pass? The puck goes laterally to the player just out of the picture driving wide. Engelland steps to the side to body up on the guy that Pascal Dupuis is already backchecking. Orpik is now on an island. He didn’t break any pass up, and Steven Stamkos is looking back like he can’t believe how open he’s about to be. The worst part? Orpik is now a stationary defenseman with his back to the play.
That’s Steven Stamkos standing in the front of the net about to receive a pass that’s going to put Fleury in a really impossible position to make save. The posture of Orpik tells you he just lost all his momentum and he’s scrambling to get back into the play. The Engelland/Dupuis train has destroyed a player that is no longer an active part of the sequence, Vitale is driving back towards Stamkos but there’s no way he can make it.
This is the type of breakdown that can bust a game open and change everything. It’s the type of breakdown the Penguins were lucky they were able to overcome in Montreal, and the same one that beat them in Carolina.
They were better last night, yes. But this net front presence and decision making has to be better if the Penguins want to make it to the post-season. The good news? They haven’t played this poorly all year long.
With Mark Eaton playing so well, and Paul Martin hopefully returning soon, the Penguins could be in a decent position defensively to cure these issues.