Tim Benz: This version of the Penguins may have changed more than Islanders expected
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz’s interesting comments about the Penguins didn’t stop at his remarkable quote about their inexperience at the net.
In his post-game remarks Monday night after his team lost to the Boston Bruins in their final regular season game, Trotz was asked what could be different from the coach’s team. Penguins Mike Sullivan now compared to when the Islanders played them so often at the start of the season.
After all, six of the eight matches between the clubs took place before March 1. At that point, the Penguins were just 11-8-1 and had yet to enter their long hot spell until March, which saw them win 12 times in 16 Games.
“Consistently, I don’t think there is much change,” said Trotz, acknowledging it had been a long time since he studied the Penguins. “We’re going to watch this. But with Sully and the Penguins, they’re not really going to change their style.
Well, if the Penguins haven’t changed their style, they’ve at least changed their approach to the game and how diligent they are in honoring it.
And it works.
The team’s recognition of the score and the situation, risk management, fundamental play and decision-making – at the blue lines and in the neutral zone – were instrumental in their rise to the top of the league. East division.
Not to mention the increased speed and mobility of defenders (when Mike Matheson is in good health), similar to what we saw in the Stanley Cup years of 2016 and 2017.
In addition, the club have third and fourth lines again bringing speed, thanks in large part to the acquisitions of Kasperi Kapanen and Jeff Carter this year. Plus, a power play that perhaps took the approach of a shooting mentality first while Evgeni Malkin was away.
Let’s see if this continues during the series, whenever Malkin is healthy enough to play.
These are things that did not happen overnight. In fact, these elements of the Penguins’ “system” or “approach” have been a source of complaints dating back to the franchise’s four-game elimination at the hands of the Trotz Islanders in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
So if Trotz just feels like the Penguins haven’t changed much since – or at least since February – then that’s probably a good thing for the Penguins.
Because Trotz might be surprised.
However, I guess Trotz is much more aware of this than he suggests, especially since the last two games between the teams illustrated what the Penguins can do at the best of times on both ends of the spectrum, offensively and defensively.
Sullivan’s team won 6-3 on March 27 and 2-1 on March 29. In Game 1, the Penguins scored two power play goals, four overall from leading players Sidney Crosby and Brian Rust (hat trick) and two from deep forward Frederick Gaudreau and Evan Rodrigues.
In Game 2, the Penguins limited New York to just 24 shots, blocked 14 shots and had a plus-8 differential in the face-off circle.
The biggest negative of this two-game series was the 21 combined giveaways the Penguins gave. This is something the Islanders often take from the Penguins and something vital to their offensive success.
If this is an area where the Penguins are similar to what they have been in the past, then Trotz might end up being right. And his team can move forward.
“(Our players) have played in these environments against teams that have been stingy defensively,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “You don’t win the Stanley Cup unless you understand how to play in these environments. I know our team is quite capable of playing a certain game which can bring us success against any opponent. We just need to make sure that we are in control of what we can to dictate the terms and give ourselves the best chance of success. “
This is something the Penguins have failed to do in their last three playoffs. And something that Trotz obviously hopes to continue.
I would say the 26-7-3 over the past two months is proof to the contrary. I’ll take the Pens in seven games.
Listen: TribLive Penguins beat writer Seth Rorabaugh joins me for Friday’s podcast. We are talking about clashes in the Penguins-Islanders series. Predictions. Some of the recent quotes from Barry Trotz. And we also take a look at the Washington-Boston series.
Penguins / NHL | Sportsman | Breakfast with Benz | Columns by Tim Benz | Best Stories