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What Went Wrong: Pittsburgh Penguins

Apr 28, 2011, 10:30 AM EST

Mark Letestu, Brooks Orpik, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Tyler Kennedy AP

Of all the first round exits, the Penguins might have the most easily diagnosed reason why they’re bowing out of the playoffs early. When looking over their numbers after being taken out in seven games, while one reason why they’re toast is obvious there are others lurking below the surface that help explain their early entrance to the offseason.

If you think everything centers around not having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around, you’re missing the mark. What went wrong for the Penguins? Let us count the ways.

1. Powerless power play
Let’s just get this out of the way first. The Penguins power play was abysmal. While the Bruins’ power play in these playoffs was technically worse since they didn’t score any goals in 21 chances, the Penguins power play may have cost them the series. Scoring at a 2.2% clip and going 1-35 in the series is awful. They had no cohesion, no real flow, nothing creative going on at all. They stunk.

In a series that demanded teams to find a way to score goals, the Pens had ample opportunity to put pucks in the net through the series (58:51 to be exact) and potted just one goal. That’s not getting it done for any team. When you’ve gotten nearly a full game’s worth of power play time over a seven game series you have to score more. We know all about how they didn’t have Crosby and Malkin and that’s fine, but adjustments have to be made especially since they spent half the season without those two. Give credit to Tampa Bay’s penalty kill for being tough, but at some point you’d think the law of averages had to give in and it never did.

2. Matt Cooke was sorely missed
Crazy thought right? Not so much when you consider how important Cooke was to the Pens penalty kill this season. For all of Cooke’s bad parts to his game, he’s a tremendous penalty killer for them. With Cooke out for the series thanks to his suspension, the Lightning were able to make a nice living on the power play going 8-27 in the series (29.6%). Half of those goals came in Game 5 that saw Tampa Bay win 8-2, but the point was hammered home that if Pittsburgh took penalties they were instantly playing with fire.

While the Pens would run the risk of giving up a few more power play opportunities with Cooke running around and doing his thing on the ice, his role on the PK was vital for them. Without him there the Lightning ran wild. With such a special teams advantage for Tampa Bay on both sides of the ledger, they were able to eke things out.

3. Offensive frustration personified
The Pens offense averaged two goals per game. That’s asking a lot out of Marc-Andre Fleury to be flawless. The Pens offense, instead, managed to not even be able to hit the net. Pittsburgh was second in the playoffs in missed shots with 108. Making matters tougher on them, the Lightning blocked a playoff best 145 shots. With guys either getting in their way or the Penguins missing the net entirely, it’s not shocking they had such a hard time scoring. When the shots did get through, Dwayne Roloson was there waiting to stop them. The Penguins led all teams in the playoffs through the first round with 257 shots on goal.

***

We all know what the Penguins were missing in the playoffs this year. They were without two of the premiere offensive weapons in the NHL and they were also without their best penalty killer. Provided all things go well next season, they’ll have all of them back as they challenge for the Stanley Cup once again.

Dan Bylsma proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the NHL after juggling knives the way he did this season with injuries. The series loss stings, but if Crosby and Malkin needed further motivation to bounce back in a huge way next season, they’ve got it now.

  1. diesel55 - Apr 28, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    Blowing a 3-1 series lead only means one thing…. “Diet Choke” is the official soft drink of the Pittsburgh Penguins!!

    • abrienza428 - Apr 28, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      Clever

    • florida76 - Apr 28, 2011 at 1:58 PM

      It’s definitely inaccurate to say the Pens choked in this series, both teams were evenly matched, and many teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit. Tampa is a good club, and the Pens were not dominating the series at that point. Losing Crosby, Malkin, and Cooke(for this series), finally caught up to the Pens. The future remains bright for the Cup leaders from the Expansion Six.

      • stakex - Apr 28, 2011 at 4:59 PM

        I’ll agree with you that the loss of key players hurt Pit… but they still finished the season strong, and made the playoffs without them. So really, thats a bad excuse for blowing a 3-1 series lead.

        If you can’t win one out of three games in the playoffs against a team you just beat three out of four games…. its pretty hard to not call it a choke. I’m a Rangers fan, and I have no problem admitting that the Rangers choked two years ago against Washington (and the Rangers were clearly the weaker team). Sure its happened a few times in the past, but that does not change the fact that those teams who lost when leading 3-1 did in fact choke.

  2. psujay - Apr 28, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    This is gonna be a bit of a rant haha

    I’m impressed with the Pens. I love the way this team fought all year, even if they gamed the system and relied on Fleury to win shootouts for them. This team is clearly a veteran team that knew how to minimize the bad breaks, they took advantage of every break they got, they played hard all year. A lot of teams could have rolled over, but the Pens went out at the trade deadline and tried to improve their team. Next year this experience is going to make them an even better team than they were this year.

    That being said, can we stop with the Jordan Staal love now?

    He’s certainly a solid player, but saying he’s a #1 or even a good #2 center is just wrong. He’s a 1/2 ppg player at this level with a great defensive game. Playing as the top offensive threat with Neal on his line he managed 1G and 2A and a -2. He’s the NHL’s answer to Eli Manning…a good player, but overrated due to his last name and the market he plays in with a championship ring due to his teammates more than him.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see him on my team (hey Jordan come to Toronto and I’ll become a homer!) But imagine how fearsome Pittsburgh would be had they drafted one of these players instead of Staal:

    -Nicklas Backstrom (and there is a legit argument here that the Pens figured they didn’t need another great playmaking center as much as a solid two way center.

    -Toews. if you want to make the argument that Staal was drafted for his two way play, then Jonathon Toews would have been the better pick.

    -Phil Kessel would have solved the “top three winger for Crosby” issue and made this team a lot more formidable than a third center, and the Pens wouldn’t have had to trade so many assets for rental wingers for Crosby each year. A third center who focuses on the PK is a lot easier to find than a top 6 winger…just ask the Kings.

    -Claude Giroux would have also been a great pick. He has much more offensive skill than Staal, though he lacks the size to ever truly be a #1 center. He is a wizard with the puck, at times he looks like a young Forsberg. He kills penalties, he plays on the pp, he wins faceoffs and plays both wing and center. Though Staal’s size makes him a more ideal defensive center.

    -Nick Foligno on Ottawa would also look great on the Crosby or Malkin’s wing.

    All that said, obviously the Pens weren’t going to take Giroux or Foligno at #2 overall or they wouldn’t have fallen to the middle/end of round 1, but I don’t think Staal is even close to being the second or even 5th best player in his draft class.

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of Pittsburgh hate for this, but I’m just trying to spark some conversation…as today is the NFL draft, but I am more interested in the NHL draft.

    • andrewdaniels55 - Apr 28, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      sorry, but a .5ppg player who is excellent at defense is a very hot commodity in the NHL. look at the love mike fischer got.

      Backstrom: hes good, but he also plays with ovechkin and sometimes semin, who are equally as talented. Staal plays with matt cooke and tyler kennedy. And james neal? many dallas fans thought he benefited from richards and eriksson more than most people thought. Granted he was just snake bit in the pens sweater

      Toews: Ill give you that, but its hard to say one was the “right pick” when they both arnt even 24 yet

      Kessel: *gun* *mouth* are you serious? i know youre a toronto fan, but what makes you think pittsburgh would put up with his lazy two-way play and horrible attitude. every member of the pens system is a high energy two way player with the exception of kovy, who i dont see them keeping

      Giroux: i like giroux alot, even tho hes on philly. but yea i agree, i dont think he wouldve been a better fit necessarily.

      Foligno: no

      Hindsight is 20/20. Staal has had some HUGE moments in a pens jersey. i do think youre right in that he isnt a true #1 center. he just doesnt have the hands, and that was exposed this year. but thats OK! not every player drafted in the top5 needs to fit the same mold. Look at the year perry had, alot of people didnt think hed break 40 goals, let alone 50. After drafting two of the premeir talent in the NHL in the two previous drafts, they had the luxury of being able to address the need for a shutdown center. and staal is most definitely a shut down center. his game changes when he doesnt have to focus on generating goals. hard to matchup against 2 centers like crosby and staal, precisely because of the different skillsets they bring

      • psujay - Apr 28, 2011 at 1:14 PM

        1) I don’t like Kessel, he doesn’t fit on a team with depth in two way forwards and without a center capable of getting him the puck. But if Kessel were on Crosby’s wing you’d love him. You don’t need a two way winger on your top line. Malkin couldn’t be further from a “two way player.” Also, since he got paid he’s not even an elite player anymore. Malkin and Ovechkin had great early success and apparently decided it was going to be easy, while Crosby decided if it’s this easy for him he could be so much better than anyone else. I love that about Crosby and hate that about Malkin.

        One thing I can’t condemn is Jordan Staal’s work ethic. If only Jared Staal worked half as hard as his brothers…what a waste.

        You don’t really have to matchup on Staal. The only “matching up” there is for Staal is keeping your top 6 away from him if possible. If Crosby and Malkin switched wingers Crosby would still put up 115+ points. Staal got his chance to play with Crosby’s wingers and continued his .5ppg (approximated, it’s a little higher) career production.

        Considering the fact that it was impossible to be wrong on Crosby and Malkin (even Ottawa would have gotten that right) Staal is really the only pick this current regime had where they had to make a decision. Letang is a solid player, but no all-star. WIthout Crosby and Malkin he was exposed as a second pairing defenseman. With Malkin and Crosby he looks like Gonchar on the powerplay. I feel like he had less than 5 goals from Jan 1 on, and his secondary assists completely disappeared. Again, I’d love to have him, but he gets way too much credit. He’s better than Phaneuf though haha

  3. heyzeus143 - Apr 28, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    this all contingent that Crosby does come back at all next season, if his recovery took so long I’d say he’s in eerily close to lindros-ville

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