Friday, June 7, 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins Postmortem 2013

For all their success this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are an extremely inept hockey team.  

The system that the Penguins employ has 2 features;

1) Both D skate to the puck and make frequent use of reverse passes, 

2) Stretch passes to the offensive neutral zone.  Note that this is not the Torpedo system.  The Torpedo has nuance and positioning.

I'm not trying to be a cynical or cute, those are literally the only points of strategy Pittsburgh uses.  There is no neutral zone tactic and no offensive/defensive zone tactic.  Zero.  Also missing are multi-player face off tactics and a strategy for puck possession in the offensive zone.

Teams that cycle well do so by design, and that is why Pittsburgh does not cycle well.  They don't use picks, and the almost never screen.  I would have thought that playing Detroit twice in the Cup finals would have highlighted the value of screening goalies and setting picks.  Refusing to screen the goalie is probably the biggest factor in the successes of Roloson, Halak, Rask, &c.  Pittsburgh does not generally have a planned way to open passing lanes or shooting lanes. The opponent's goalie is a) able to see the shot, and b) not induced to move laterally, and is thus able to maintain angle to the crease, ideal depth, and relaxed stance.  What you get is what you've been seeing in this Boston series; very easy-to-manage shots with no rebounds and nobody there for those rebounds.  Save for occasionally Morrow.

The Bruins' unreal success rate in the face off dot is directly attributable to practiced, tested tactical set plays to gain possession or defend against quick opportunities.  In short, they tie up the Penguins' center and swarm the puck.  Pittsburgh does not.  

The neutral zone is by far the most important glaring absence as was obvious in the Islanders series, and most especially obvious with the Flyers last season.  Teams are more or less free to carry the puck at top speed through the neutral zone across the blue line.  The D back in to the circles (they are caught flat after a turnover pretty often, too).  Forwards tend to gravitate to the puck carrier as opposed to closing passing and shooting lanes (read: come to a stop).  The spacing is not anywhere near ideal as the forwards have to back check through the defensive neutral zone as the play is already developing in their defensive zone.  In short, not having a structural system leads to constant broken-ness of defensive play.  This further leverages the danger of turning the puck over.  As for the other team, the center drive is being executed at full speed.  Lateral passing is generally available, and there is space to take selective shots for far pad rebounds, &c.  

On the other hand, a little bit of system has gone a long way for recent opponents.  Tampa's 1-3-1, the ol' Montreal 1-2-2, the current Boston 2-man high, and the Islanders' simple front-stretch-pass-wing lock either defeated or almost defeated Pittsburgh.  I would like to feel as though our coaching staff could make adjustments, but in most cases there is nothing there to make an adjustment to.  That is why, hockey fans, our ridiculous video game team with the two best players in the league on it has (and has had) little or no function when faced with the most vanilla of neutral zone systems.  A team like Boston which has been polishing a very tidy trap game for years has eaten our lunch. 

There is a certain disdain in Pittsburgh to "being a trapping team".  New Jersey and Florida come to mind immediately as loathed scum; plankton who had to force the Penguins down to their level, &c.  There's also a myth that you shouldn't trap with a lot of talent, because it's "stifling".  Surely winning a certain way cannot come before actually winning?  The fact is that if your team cannot play multiple variations of the neutral zone trap, you're working at least twice as hard for the same ice and the same scoring opportunities.  You're giving up free ice.  You're far less likely to protect a lead.  You're not generating turnovers as much as you could (and with our forwards, short ice and potentially flat-footed defense would magnify the brilliance of the Penguins on the rush).  It's an unacceptable waste and an unacceptable way to lose playoff rounds.

Finally, and this is more splitting hairs about idiosyncratic things that I don't have good intel on,  what is the fucking deal with the lineup?  I'm way past trying to understand the Iggy LW Malkin experiment; I've hated it from the first few shifts.  No, what I want to know is this: what is the possible benefit of constantly changing the defense pairings?  I'm terribly interested because no other coaches do that.  Duncan Keith plays with Seabrook.  Chara with Seidenberg.  Lidstrom + Rafalski.  Neidermayer with Stevens, &c.  

If I was Ray Shero, I would have fired Dan Bylsma after Game 3 of the Islanders series and been on the phone with Lindy Ruff sharpish.  Lindy, Guy Boucher, Alain Vigneault, and Paul Maurice are unemployed NHL coaches.  However, since we bought ourselves the time, the man I want is Dave Tippett, who is in limbo out in Phoenix.  He is a masterful strategist without being so static as to see players in terms of round or square pegs and round holes, such as John Tortorella or Ken Hitchcock.  That would be ideal if Phoenix doesn't renew his contract. 

I may do an off-season plan post merely because it's cathartic to write about what essentially is a waste of a once-in-a-lifetime roster in the cap era.  Anyway, let's complete the sweep so it's easier to do the right thing and show Dan the inside of the Fort Pitt Tunnel one last time.  Go 2014 Pens. 


Shadow said...

Here, here! Could not agree more...

Johnny Wrath said...

Thanks! I hope this occurs to the management team. Visit me here, I'm gonna write this summer (for therapeutic reasons.