I want to examine the role that physicality played in the Penguins game one victory last night against the New York Islanders.

For a better understanding of the key part that board play has in what the Penguins try and accomplish in the offensive zone, remember this board set-up by the Penguins off of dump ins.

When the puck is dumped into the zone, the Penguins post up along the boards to take the easy pass out of the equation.

Think of it this way, if you’re an Islanders player that has been taking a beating all night long along the wall, and you’re out to corral a loose puck, the easiest play you have is also the quickest.

Physicality is an investment. Beating on the opposition creates a sense of unfounded urgency among opposing players. Even when they have time and space, they play the game as if they don’t.

So, by posting up along the wall and taking the boards away, they effectively force the opposition to either turn the puck over along the wall, or show enough composure to turn around, take a hit, and pass the puck up the middle of the ice.

Take a look at this sequence by the Islanders last night to see how this process works.

The Islanders dump the puck in along the wall and Casey Cizikas chases down the loose puck. He’s going to attempt to make a play towards his defenseman at the point and avoid getting hit in the process.

If you look behind the play, Sutter has his man, but Paul Martin has his back to Colin McDonald who might be able to retrieve a pass behind the net.

Cizikas cant’ get him the puck because the boards are sealed. On one end, you have Kris Letang sealing the wall off down low, and Brendan Morrow stepping in to win the battle up high. Cizikas is going to turn this puck over.

Cizikas throws the puck up the wall carelessly, Letang catches him with his head down, and Morrow retrieves the puck and heads up ice with Matt Cooke in support.

The Penguins absolutely owned the wall in this play, and it is 100 percent a result of how well they played in a physical sense.

Let’s take a closer look at the infamous Morrow/Tavares hit that riled up the Islanders and caused the end of the game to get a bit out of control.

Tavares receives this puck along the blue line. Skating it in is not an option as his linemates are offsides after a Brendan Morrow clear.

The easy option here is to just dump the puck in and life to fight another day. But Tavares doesn’t want to get hit, and he makes a big mistake.

In the playoffs, no one passes up the opportunity to take the body, and his indecision with the puck is going to cost him in a way that it wouldn’t have had this been the regular season.

Tavares is attempting to dangle the puck at the offensive blue line with his head down.

The blurriness of Morrow in this clip is indicative of how fast he’s going. Maybe this isn’t a hit that happens in game 17 of the regular season, but in game one of the playoffs, you’re going to get obliterated.


A few quick notes:

- There was an instance in the third period, while the Islanders were on the power-play, that Brendan Morrow chased down a dump in by himself and retrieved it without any push back from the Islanders. Towards the end of that game, the Islanders appeared to avoid getting hit at all costs.

- The Corsi numbers for this game were heavily tilted in the Islanders favor, which goes to show why Fenwick is so important in the playoffs. The Penguins ability to block shots in that game was top notch.

- Douglas Murray, Matt Cooke, and Brendan Morrow were in the heads of the Islanders all night long.

- If there was any chance of the Penguins falling asleep for the start of game two, Marty Reasoner’s attempted knee/slewfoot on Jussi Jokinen and the disturbance it caused pretty much guaranteed that would not happen.

- Can you remember the last time Marc-Andre Fleury looked that composed for an NHL playoff game?

- The Penguins power-play structure has slightly adjusted to allow Jarome Iginla room on the left point to fire the puck at will. Keep an eye on the Iginla presence on this top unit for game two. Either Iginla will do the goal scoring himself, or he’ll be garnering attention and allowing his teammates to find open ice.