The Penguins bread and butter this year has been the stretch, tip, dump play that allows them to quickly get on pucks played behind the net and terrorize defensive units with puck possession down low.

The defenseman lobs the puck up ice as illustrated above, and the blue arrow is indicative of the far forward chasing the dump in with speed away from the play.

Icing is negated because of the tip play on the shoot in that occurs just before the offensive blue line.

The Penguins like to go north quickly, and they’ve recently encountered some problems at the hands of this stretch pass.

The Islanders are playing a sort of center field safety with blue jersey’s clogging up the lanes along the wall. The Penguins zone exit has been a major point of contention for me since game one.

Let’s take a look at an example from yesterday.

Matt Niskanen is going to attempt a stretch pass here. He has an open defenseman next to him, but the game plan is to turn the play around and go north as quick as possible.

The problem is that Michael Grabner is standing right in the path of the puck. Niskanen turns it over, and now the Islanders are coming with speed, the Pittsburgh defense has to reverse play, and no forwards are in a position to come back and help.

Grabner picks the puck up. And now the Islanders have a clear cut path to the net. Niskanen can’t recover. Despres is out to lunch behind the play.

Turning the puck over at either blue line is a recipe for disaster.

The result is a complete mess in the defensive zone. Niskanen actually impedes Fleury from making this save, and Despres remained out of position.

Conversly, the stretch pass CAN work. It’s not an all or nothing play. It’s effective in certain situations. That is the key. If the neutral zone is clogged, someone is going to have to take the initative to skate the puck out of danger.

The third goal was a result of the stretch pass working, but note that Kunitz corrals this loose puck and skates it out of danger for a good while before he backhands it off the wall to Sidney Crosby.

The Islanders defenseman didn’t have the wall covered. Kunitz is able to spring Crosby because the play is available only after he skated the puck out of danger.

Let’s talk about puck management for a minute.

When the tempo ramps up and the game gets physical, you have to play the game with your head up. Blindly whacking the puck around is going to cause turnovers and extend your time in the defensive zone.

Here’s one example of why Simon Despres only played for 6:00 yesterday.

Simon Despres jostles for a loose puck that he’ll actually win. The red line is indicative of the blind pass Despres is going to make up the ice. He has some time and space to make an outlet pass here, but he buckles under the pressure and just whacks this puck away as quickly as he can.

The puck is sent directly to the point and turned over.

The black X’s are indicative of the outlet options Despres will have.

Look at this set up for the Islanders. Both Penguins forwards that were available for a simple puck support pass are bypassed on a blind clear that a defenseman is now going to tee up through a five man screen.

Here’s another instance of playing as if you don’t have time or space to make a play.

Jussi Jokinen has a shot at a loose puck along the wall.

Matt Cooke is wide open on the far side.

Jokinen is going to blindly whack at this puck and clear it directly to the defenseman on the blue line, despite the fact that there’s room directly to his left.

The Islanders forcheck as created such a sense of urgency among the team that they’re whacking at the puck to clear it when they don’t need to. This created another prime scoring chance for the Islanders at the start of the third period.

It also killed any attempt at zone exit that the Penguins had.

The final note here is the key to the question of what allows the Islanders to get pucks at the net and have so many uncontested shooting opportunities.

In 2009, we watched Rob Scuderi masterfully negate quite a few scoring chances from Alex Ovechkin. Now, Ovechkin got his goals that series, no question about it.

But the bottom line is gap control and stick on puck is what makes life a little easier for your goaltender and creates blocked shots on key scoring chances.

The Penguins are backing up way too much in this series.

The “gap” is the amount of space between the defenseman and the puck carrier. The gap dictates how games are won and lost in a lot of instances.

Take this general rule of thumb into consideration when watching this clip. A common rule for gap control is three stick lengths away at the offensive blue line, two sticks away at the red line, and one stick away and/or body contact at the defensive blue line.

That’s John Tavares lining up against Mark Eaton. Now, we’re talking about an MVP candidate with an absolutely lethal shot.

If this was game one, Eaton would have stepped up on him. Or, in the very least, gotten a stick on his shooting attempt and made life a little harder on him.

Tavares is now entering into the zone and the gap hasn’t changed all that much. Maybe Eaton is waiting because if Tavares wants to cut to the middle of the ice, he has to expose the puck to do so, giving Eaton a chance.

Tavares is already now on top of the circle, and he’s made it that far uncontested. Eaton will try for stick on puck here, but now Tavares has already started his shooting motion and Mark Eaton is nothing more than a screen.

The Penguins have quite a bit to clean up if they want to move forward in this series. Let’s see what kind of fun game 4 brings.