Kovacevic: Penguins answer? Check, please
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Long, long time ago under a steel dome that's now a surface lot, the Penguins had this one hyper fan in B level who was a riot at times but never really put much thought into what he'd shout.
To wit …
John Barbero, the late PA announcer, used to welcome all groups in attendance and, this one night, issued “a special welcome to the New Jersey Devils Fan Club!”
The hyper fan leaped up, lost some of his beer and bellowed to no one in particular: “WHERE IS HE? I'LL KILL 'IM!”
Well, let's just say that most of the time, it was a lot less entertaining in that no matter the score, no matter the situation, the guy would stick to the same two words: “HIT SOMEBODY!”
Nothing else. Just that.
It's a statement that almost always lacks understanding of the game, lacks insight of any kind and ... um, hey, it's precisely what I think your current Penguins need to do in Game 4 Tuesday against the Islanders.
Find some blue and orange and knock it over.
You know, like Game 1.
“Absolutely,” Douglas Murray was saying Monday in that deep tone that reminds you daily the man's nickname is “Crankshaft.” “When you're playing the right way and getting pucks in deep and execute quickly, you've got your legs going the whole time. And it's easier to get physical. When you give a team like the Islanders a lot of room ...”
Yeah, we know. A mindboggling 145 attempted shots and eight goals over the past two games.
It's not nearly as easy to quantify physical play, of course. The NHL's official hit statistics vary more than any other from arena to arena, so the 36 hits with which the Penguins were credited in Game 1 don't differ much from the 28 and 33 in the next two.
But go with your eyes ...
Anyone remember John Tavares being knocked on his wallet after that happened a half-dozen times in Game 1?
Anyone remember the Islanders looking so fast in Game 1?
Not me. And it's no coincidence. The only icy sport where you look fast on your backside is the luge.
But, no matter what you hear from any hyper fan, it's not as simple as wearing a growl and going for blood. It first requires making smart decisions, a topic that seemed to consume the Penguins' attention at their optional practice Monday.
“We're planning on being physical for every game,” said Tanner Glass, whose entire role is hitting and killing penalties. “It's just a matter of putting pucks in areas where we can be physical. Having a plan to be physical is fine, but unless you do things right ... there's no one to hit.”
The Penguins aren't about to spill the playbook, so accept this as a condensed version of the thinking:
1. Take the play that's there.
2. Dump it in if it isn't.
3. No, really, dump it in if it isn't.
4. Do it with a purpose.
The latter is one Dan Bylsma long has stressed. There are designed dump-ins to specific spots in the attacking zone where the Penguins can reclaim the puck quickly. Or sometimes, it's just a quick chip behind the opposing defenseman to another forward already headed there.
“We want to put ourselves in position where we aren't just punting the puck away,” Bylsma said. “That's very important. We do need to make some execution adjustments to our game. We do want to change possession of the puck more in our favor.”
To some, that'll sound like the Penguins being reactive rather than proactive. It isn't. This has been their methodology all along. It's just that they occasionally abandon it for ... aw, who knows? Maybe they see every goal as a green light to go for more. Maybe it's that they see the Islanders flying up ice and take it as some manly challenge. Don't underestimate machismo in hockey as it relates to speed.
Whatever the reason, the Penguins need to knock it off.
And to hit.
It would be a great boon to the cause, of course, if Brooks Orpik returns. He looked very strong in practice Monday, so it's possible. Few appreciate No. 44 enough, but his plus-17 rating was the NHL's seventh-best among defensemen — even though he seldom scores — and his 119 hits ranked 11th.
“There are a lot of things Brooks Orpik adds,” Bylsma said.
Others could join him. In addition to seeing Orpik bump Simon Despres — six minutes, minus-2 in Game 3 — I wouldn't be surprised to see Tyler Kennedy bump Beau Bennett. Kennedy's style is as simple and north-south as it gets.
No need to overthink things.