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Kovacevic: A tweak or two will do for Game 2

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun stick-checks the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron in the second period during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Saturday, June 1, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Penguins/NHL Videos

By Dejan Kovacevic
Sunday, June 2, 2013, 11:06 p.m.
 

The Penguins aren't changing goaltenders.

Let's start with that, since every puck that finds its way behind Tomas Vokoun is followed by a vapor trail of vapid sentiment to toss out the guy who has carried the team to this point in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury.

Vokoun will — and unquestionably should — retake his crease for Game 2 on Monday night against the Bruins.

And if anyone doubts that, Dan Bylsma made it abundantly clear in his daily briefing Sunday that he had no issues with Vokoun's work in the 3-0 loss in Game 1: “Tomas, I thought, played really well. He was strong, made some big saves.”

No one above the Peter Puck level of hockey knowledge would dispute it. Of David Krejci's two goals that put Boston in control, one was a slap shot that ricocheted off a sliding Paul Martin, the other a fluky aerial rebound — off a good stand-up save — that landed conveniently right back on Krejci's blade.

OK, with that out of the way … well, the Penguins really shouldn't change much else, either: They must maintain those machine-gun breakouts that looked better against the Bruins than either the Islanders or Senators. They must keep pounding away at Tuukka Rask, who isn't nearly as good as they made him look in Game 1. They must continue to clean up rebounds in front of Vokoun. They must feed off the fire created by Evgeni Malkin. And yes, they absolutely must sustain their edge in physical play, best gauged in Game 1 by a 34-19 edge in hits. That goes double for Matt Cooke, who needs to immediately shrug off being wrongly assessed the major penalty for checking from behind.

From there, they just need to sustain it.

As Douglas Murray put it, “I think we played a pretty good game to start off with. We kind of got away from the plan a little bit in the third period. Clean that up, and we'll be good.”

All that said, they could benefit from a tweak or two.

The painfully obvious top priority is faceoffs, which Boston owned at a ridiculous two-thirds rate. The Bruins generally are outstanding in this regard, especially Patrice Bergeron, but he made up for only 10-6 out of his team's 32-16 advantage.

“People think it's just Bergeron, but it's Krejci, Chris Kelly, almost all of their centermen,” Jussi Jokinen said. “You really have to be at your best.”

Only Jokinen could say that among the Penguins' centers. He went 6-4, while Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Brandon Sutter went a combined 10-23. That's a ton of lost possession time, and it might have been all that kept an otherwise threatening power play from producing.

Solutions aren't easy. Dan Bylsma's been shuttling Jokinen on and off the ice for defensive faceoffs, but that isn't always practical. He could bring Joe Vitale back into the lineup, but the resultant scratch wouldn't be easy. Sutter has been the least effective five-on-five forward in these playoffs — strikingly so at times — but he's part of the penalty-killing unit, and Vitale isn't.

What I think the Penguins will do: Play for ties.

It takes some swallowing of the ego, but a center can essentially cancel out his counterpart by simply tying him up rather than playing the puck. From there, a designated winger will try to pounce instead.

As an aside: What is wrong with Sutter?

He's got a goal and an assist through 12 games — same as Brooks Orpik through nine games — and, more important given his checking role, has skated with general malaise. He apparently isn't hurt, judging by not being granted any of Bylsma's so-called “maintenance days” for rest, so it's a rather vexing mystery.

Anyway, another area in which the Penguins would do well to adjust — at least a little — is the approach at Boston's blue line.

Again, the breakouts were terrific, but the entries into the attacking zone were way too easy. Claude Julien is one of the NHL's elite defensive minds, and I'll bet he makes that task outright miserable in Game 2.

So, per the chess match that any best-of-seven series presents, the Penguins should turn the tables and start chipping the puck deep. That benefits not only in showing the Bruins another hand, but also in affording the best chance to beat up Zdeno Chara down low.

Vokoun thought his team should have begun that late in Game 1, actually: “We just didn't do what we wanted to do: Put the puck more behind their ‘D,' It seems to me it was more of a rush game. We don't want to play like that.”

Maybe Fleury would have said it better.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

 

 
 


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