Rossi: Lack of together time showing for Penguins' defense
The Penguins' top six defensemen have combined to play 387 postseason games. That seems like an advantage while playing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It is not.
Those same six defensemen — Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi — have also played together for only 29 full periods since training camp. About 35 percent (10) have been in the past two weeks.
“There's something to be said for the chemistry. When you play with guys only a certain amount of time, you don't have that built up,” Martin said Sunday, an off-day for the Penguins after their 4-3 double-overtime loss to Columbus in Game 2 of an opening-round playoff series.
“But I don't think it's any excuse for us not to be better. We all know what we're supposed to do no matter who we play with.”
Knowing is not doing, though.
The Blue Jackets' winning goal in Game 2 on Saturday at Consol Energy Center featured a couple of wingers — Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson — left open to shoot freely at Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Calvert scored on his second attempt after Fleury had denied both him and Atkinson.
On that sequence early in the second overtime, Scuderi was behind the net and Letang looked to attempt covering for him by skating toward Fleury's stick-side post.
Calvert's goal was one of only two the Blue Jackets have scored at even-strength, but Penguins defenders often have been caught backtracking, fumbling pucks and sometimes seeming completely out of position.
There is probably a good reason for this troubling trend. Forwards are committing turnovers regularly, though they had been credited with only 12 of the Penguins' 23 giveaways through Games 1 and 2.
Where those turnovers are happening, not the number, is critical. That they have happened mostly in the neutral zone — and if not there, high in the offensive zone — is the problem.
A new neutral-zone system was adopted this season, but Penguins defensemen recently have noted its potentially disastrous downside. If a forward fails to make the right play — either a quick pass or dumping the puck — in the neutral zone or near the offensive-zone blue line, the Penguins' left defenseman is susceptible to being caught flat-footed against transitioning opposition forwards.
Scuderi, Orpik and Maatta are the left defensemen.
Maatta was victimized by forwards' neutral-zone mistakes several times late in the regular season. Scuderi had it happen to him in Game 2, and he was forced to take a tripping penalty.
The Penguins have taken 10 penalties in their opening-round series against Columbus. Defensemen have accounted for six.
On Sunday, coach Dan Bylsma did not rule out switching his regular defense pairings for Game 3 at Columbus on Monday night. That might not help, because the Penguins' top six defensemen actually lack experience playing as a group.
Injuries depleted the Penguins' defense corps much of the regular season. Health was restored right before the playoffs, but the injury fallout remains.
The Penguins have had six months to prepare for the postseason, and the new neutral-zone system was implemented to help get them back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Their defensemen, though, are basically into their fourth week of getting used to it — and that has showed.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Penguins rally late but lose to Panthers, 4-3, in shootout
- Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches’ firings
- Penguins notebook: Three more players tested for mumps
- Downie, Farnham bringing a much-needed edge to the Penguins
- Penguins defenseman Letang having best season in new system
- Penguins continue to thrive, despite spate of ailments
- Penguins notebook: Memorable night for Pouliot, Trocheck
- Minor league report: Other prospects on Penguins’ radar