Does Jacques Martin Hold The Key To Playoff Success?
The Pittsburgh Penguins loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final should bring back rough memories for Penguins fans.
The debacle in against Philadelphia the previous year aside, this now marks three years since the Stanley Cup runs that have seen the Pittsburgh Penguins be ousted by three teams with one staunch similarity among them.
In fact, you might even say the formula to beating the Penguins has been well established at this point.
The Penguins have been beaten three out of the last four years by, in some way, shape, or form, the neutral zone trap.
This past playoff run, we diagrammed the Bruins approach to play in the neutral zone and why it was hampering the Penguins business offensively.
But those frustrations aren’t limited to the series against the Bruins.
In 2010, the Penguins lost to the Jaroslav Halak-lead Canadiens in a similar fashion.
Despite gross injuries the team against the Lightning in 2010, the Penguins were again ousted and frustrated by the 1-3-1 employed by Guy Boucher that rendered them scoreless in game 7 of that series.
Before we move into the hire of Jacques Martin and what it means for this team, let’s take a second to understand what systematic approach to the game we’re talking about and how the Penguins have seen their offensive flow become disrupted.
Above is the diagram we used to focus on the Bruins neutral zone trap employed against the Penguins this past year.
By only pressuring two forwards and dropping a third into defensive coverage, teams have effectively been able to do the following against the Penguins:
1. Limit the options of the Pittsburgh player carrying the puck by enveloping his teammates or playing man-to-man against potential pass options.
2. Effectively pressure the puck carrier.
3. Force turnovers via bad dumps, stick on puck pressure, or tape-to-tape turnovers in the face of three players on the defensive blue line.
4. Play off the counter, generate odd-man rushes, and employ quick transitions from defense to offense.
Think back to 2010, how many opportunistic goals did Mike Cammalleri score against the Penguins in that series despite how tilted the ice was in the Penguins favor?
The Penguins were beaten by a hot goaltender with five players in a defensive posture surrounding him at all times. Tough defense at the blueline forced the Penguins to turn the puck over and allowed teams like Tampa, Montreal, and Boston to attack off the counter and come into the zone with speed.
Think of it this way, teams are beating the Penguins by playing defense in order to generate offense. It’s almost as if they’re just setting a trap, no pun intended, and allowing the Penguins to walk into it. Once the they take the bait, it’s off to the races in the other direction.
In our playoff roundtable that we did with Pittsburgh Magazine after the season was over, Rob Rossi made an extremely salient point that resonates with this logic.
He said that Kris Letang told the media the Bruins confounded the Penguins by “not attacking.”
So, how do the Penguins overcome this hurdle? What’s their key to the neutral zone trap and convergence frustrations they’ve encountered?
Enter: Jacques Martin.
The significance of Martin’s hire with the Penguins is simple.
He’s a veteran coach that’s employed this strategy against the Penguins and won a seven game series with it.
Ray Shero may have summed it up with this quote in regards to what Martin brings.
“We want someone with maybe a little bit different look at things from a different perspective.”
The perspective of the opposition, maybe? The Penguins are going to try to remove the thorn in their side by employing a coach who stuck the thorn there in the first place.
After all, if Martin employed this strategy against the Penguins and won, you’d have to think he’d know how to beat it as well.
Bylsma later added, “We weren’t just looking for a coach, we were looking for a specific criteria of a coach and the experience of a coach.”
This isn’t to say that Dan Bylsma is incapable of coaching his team over these type of strategies. In many ways, the stifling neutral zone play of the Red Wings is a bit similar to the approach to the game we’re talking about today. In fact, the Penguins had plenty of chances to put games away against Boston this year and either Tuukka Rask was there to answer the bell or the players simply missed their chance to finish.
But the bottom line is this: 2009 was a long time ago.
The team has the core and star power to win. The window for another Stanley Cup, or even several of them, is not going to last forever.
Dan Bylsma now has the benefit of enemy eyes on his bench.
How will that impact the team? We’ll find out the next time a team is stacking three players along the defensive blue line and collapsing on the goaltender in the post-season.
Rest assured that Jacques Martin will be there to provide his input on how to beat it.