Archive

ShareThis Page
Mark Madden: Time to address Penguins’ pinching problems | TribLIVE.com
News

Mark Madden: Time to address Penguins’ pinching problems

938190522
Getty Images
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta fights for position against the Flyers' Wayne Simmons at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 25, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As noted in this space Sunday, the Penguins don’t have a Plan B.

That’s no indictment of coach Mike Sullivan. As two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins haven’t needed one. “Playing the game the right way” has sufficed.

But one particular phase of the Penguins’ game has been torn asunder: Defensemen are too easily circumvented when they pinch, and odd-man breaks surrendered are far too plentiful.

Reasons abound for this problem:

• When pinching, the defensemen play too much puck and not enough man.

• Forwards are derelict getting back, perhaps too often assuming the defenseman will win the pinch.

• The opposition has it figured. The Penguins’ style is nuanced, but not chock-full of options. The defensemen pinch all the time. The defensemen join the rush all the time. (The latter also contributes mightily to the odd-man break problem.)

So, how to fix it?

Good question.

The Penguins aren’t conceited, but they are convinced. It’s foolish to bash a style that has worked so well. Why should they change, or even adjust much?

But the NHL has changed, and adjusted. The Penguins once overwhelmed with speed. Now much of the league has caught up.

Here are some options, none of which Sullivan will consider.

• Limit which defensemen join the rush, and in what situation. Kris Letang always does, Chad Ruhwedel rarely does, everybody else is in-between. Offensively, some defensemen contribute more.

• Keep a forward high depending on score and situation. Pinch, but with less risk.

• An extreme alternative would be to trap, then counterattack with numbers after turnovers. Don’t laugh. That’s what the 1991-92 Penguins did to overcome a three-games-to-one playoff-series deficit against Washington en route to a second straight Stanley Cup. It was Mario Lemieux’s idea.

The Penguins shouldn’t abandon risk. They’re high-risk, high-reward.

But the Penguins should play more sensibly when the situation calls. They’ve proven they can: witness zero goals surrendered in the last two games of last season’s Stanley Cup Final.

Sullivan has certainly noticed the problem.

“Sometimes when we tend to give up odd-man breaks, it’s because we’re flat in the offensive zone with the three forwards,” Sullivan said after the Penguins beat Philadelphia, 5-4, in overtime Sunday. “We don’t have any sort of depth to our attack.

“If something doesn’t go right for us — if we hit a shin pad, or we lose the puck — now we’re on the wrong side of it. We’re chasing it.”

The solution is simple, said the Penguins coach: “Make sure you’re on the right side of people and have some depth in the offensive zone.”

Loosely translated, that means the high forward should lean toward covering for the defenseman when he pinches — even more so when score and clock dictate.

The twits on Twitter are wetting their pants with worry: “This style will never win in the playoffs! We need Fleury and Cole back!” Like the citizens know more about what it takes to succeed in the postseason than the two-time defending champs. Yikes.

The forwards can fix a lot of the Penguins’ defensive problems: make fewer turnovers. When they are made, make them less grievous. Chase back with better anticipation and more commitment.

Conor Sheary’s shortcomings in that regard may lead to him not getting a jersey for playoff games. When centering Sheary and Phil Kessel, Derick Brassard has to be Patrice Bergeron dipped in Bob Gainey. That’s too much defensive burden when you also have to produce. (Which Brassard is starting to do.) Jake Guentzel isn’t much better than Sheary defensively.

At least the Penguins have locked up one significant accomplishment: They swept the season series against Philadelphia. Have you ever seen the Flyers win the Cup?

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.