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May 7, 2016
by Bill West


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Penguins & the psychology of success

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In all likelihood, regardless of how Saturday night’s Game 5 between with the Washington Capitals ends, the Penguins’ psyche will emerge as a topic of discussion in the aftermath.

Win, and talking heads will commend the Penguins for their ability to put away the NHL’s top regular-season team on the road.

Lose, and questions will likely arise about whether the Penguins are still somehow haunted by their recent postseason disappointments.

Earlier this week, a story in the Trib attempted to explore how the Penguins moved past their “fragile” phase and became “resilient,” to steal two terms often used by coach Mike Sullivan.

For Sullivan and the Penguins to say their mentality changed is fine. Results certainly suggest the team better at dealing with all kinds of circumstances, both good and bad. But I wanted a third-party perspective from someone with psychology expertise.

Enter Aimee Kimball, a prominent Pittsburgh-based mental training consultant with a Ph.D in sports psychology.

Below are her remarks on the topics of molding a team’s mindset and restoring its confidence. What intrigued me most about her input was how much it aligned with what Sullivan has said and done since taking over on Dec. 12. At this point, there’s a pretty strong consensus that Sullivan is a smart man whose intelligence extends beyond player deployment and scheme adjustments. Kimball’s explanations affirmed for me that Sullivan speaks as a coach who has studied the best ways to communicate and connect with those he leads, and not as a former player or jock type who fixates on grit and heart, though he values those intangibles.

Kimball on moving a team from fragility to resiliency: “Generally speaking, a coach, when they want to build up the resiliency and mental toughness of a team, it’s about creating the culture to do so. A lot of that is how they communicate with players. They make the players feel like they are a part of this team, and they contribute to it. And really getting the players to be competitive. To me, when I’m working with teams or individuals, it’s really talking about what competitiveness is, and that’s playing to win or playing to do your best rather than playing not to lose or trying to avoid mistakes. I think a lot of times athletes of any age get caught up in, ‘I just don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to lose.’ So they play very tentatively. But when you’re looking at building the confidence of a team and building a culture of success, it has more to do with focusing on going out there and doing everything you can to win. A lot of players, when they start to lose confidence, it’s because they’re almost playing out of fear instead of playing out of passion.”

On pushing players to think about “playing the right way” without causing paralysis through analysis: “You want athletes to be able to strategize and be able to think about the game before their game. But when they play, you don’t want them overthinking. You want them to be able to shut that off and play more with just their intelligence, their knowledge of the sport. Because if they’ve trained the right way and prepared the right way, they shouldn’t need to think about it (actively). They should be able to just go out there and do it. You want them to prepare and work and study the film and have done the training and know the strategy so that it’s all there in their filing cabinet. But when they get out on the court or the field or the ice, they just put that to use. … You never want to be so emotional or so thought out. You want to pay attention to details at the right time and the right place, but you don’t want to overthink it so much that you’re a robot. Very few sports are so slow-paced where you have that.”

On how the Penguins might’ve become “fragile” in the first place: “What tends to happen is athletes are focusing on the wrong things. They’ll focus on the crowds, the situations or the playing time. So it’s not necessarily that they don’t believe they’re good enough. Their focus has just shifted away from how good to they are to, ‘What if?’ They’re thinking about things that aren’t task-specific. Their playing time, the crowd, the playoffs — these things don’t matter unless they make it matter.”

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May 4, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 4 Washington pregame

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Two interesting topics in the build-up to Game 4 tonight: What will the Penguins D corps look like without the suspended Kris Letang and what role will call-up Tom Sestito play?

On the defense situation, here’s what pairs looked like at morning skate:

Pouliot-Daley
Dumoulin-Lovejoy
Cole-Schultz

Here’s what Lovejoy had to say about the topic:

“As a team, we want to play to our strengths. We are not out there playing crazy, physical, shutdown hockey. We’re out there playing with speed, trying to make their forwards and their D uncomfortable with smart decisions and lots of speed. We’re going to try to play as much as we can in the offensive zone tonight and try to be difficult to play against that way.”

The Dumoulin-Lovejoy pair has been together a lot this year, with pretty good success. The Cole-Schultz pair has familiarity too. Pouliot and Daley have only played together for 25:48 at even strength. The Penguins scored one goal and allowed none during that time.

While we’re on the topic, here’s a look at goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time for the D pairs who played together more than 100 minutes this season. Notice the magical and unforgettable Maatta-Scuderi pairing at the top of the list.

PAIR MIN GA/60
MAATTA-SCUDERI 139 1.29
LETANG-DALEY 172 1.39
POULIOT-LOVEJOY 148 1.62
DUMOULIN-LOVEJOY 696 1.72
DUMOULIN-DALEY 402 1.79
COLE-SCHULTZ 2.02 2.02
MAATTA-LETANG 674 2.05
COLE-LETANG 285 2.52
COLE-DALEY 123 2.92

As far as Sestito goes, he took line rushes on the fourth line in Bryan Rust’s place with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl at morning skate. Coach Mike Sullivan said Rust is day to day. Rust was back in a walking boot this morning. Sullivan also said Eric Fehr is day to day with an undisclosed injury. He didn’t skate this morning.

If Fehr and Rust are out, with Beau Bennett apparently still not cleared to play, Oskar Sundqvist and Sestito will both be in the lineup. If Fehr plays, I think Sestito will be in and Sundqvist will be scratched, based largely on the fact that Sestito came off the ice before Sundqvist at the end of morning skate.

I asked Steve Oleksy, who also was called up yesterday, what he thought Sestito would bring if he plays.

First, Olesky said Sestito was very effective in Wilkes-Barre’s first-round playoff upset of Providence.

“He was awesome,” Olesky said. “They had him starting every game and he came out flying and got a couple big hits early and I think the team really fed off that. I think that’s one of the big reasons for our success in that series.”

Second, Olesky said he thinks Sestito can be effective in a series that has turned ugly at times.

“It takes a lot of pressure off (other) guys when you’ve got a guy like that who’s obviously pretty successful with the fighting aspect,” Olesky said. “Not only that, but brings that physical side and stands up for his teammates and makes the other team think twice when taking some of those roads.”

Sestito, for what it’s worth, sounds ready to go.

“I think people are going to be hitting everybody,” he said. “Maybe they answer the bell. Maybe they don’t. But I’m going to be out there dishing out the same hits they are.”

Bye for now,

jb

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May 3, 2016
by Bill West


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Pens-Caps Game 3 afterthoughts

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Matt Murray stole a win for the Penguins tonight, and every player in the home dressing room knew it.

Just look at the shot attempt charts from Game 1 through 3, and it’s easy to see why coach Mike Sullivan came across as fairly sour in his postgame press conference, despite being the guy in charge of the winning team. (The colors in the charts are based on home and away, not Capitals’ blue and Penguins’ black, by the way. This frequently confuses people.)

Pens Caps Game 1 poss Pens Caps Game 2 Pens Caps Game 3

Sullivan recognizes the importance of possession in determining long-term success. His post-game opening remarks made that clear:

“The disparity in shots was because they had the puck all night, and we didn’t,” Sullivan said. “That’s an area where, in the first two games, we felt as though we had the puck for long stretches of the game. Tonight was a different story. I thought they beat us to loose pucks. They won puck battles. They outplayed us in a lot of aspects of the game. I thought the scoring chances that we got, we were very opportunistic. They were high-quality chances, and we were able to finish on them.”

He later added: “When our team is at its best, our defense starts 190 feet from our net with our puck pursuit, hanging onto pucks down low in the offensive zone, controlling territory, and using our foot speed to our advantage. I didn’t think we were able to do that tonight.”

Washington coach Barry Trotz harped on the disconnect between the game’s events and outcome, too.

“I thought our first period was really good,” Trotz said. “They got two goals. One was a fortunate goal, in the sense that it went off their guy, our guy and then it goes on net. The first goal, we can prevent that. That was just a little bit of a missed detail by us.
“But the rest of the game, I thought Murray was really good in the first. I thought he was good all game. There was no question he was the reason that they had success. Our game reminded me a lot of our Game 3 in the Island last year. It took us a couple games to find our game, and once we found our game, I thought we were good. I got a little bit of the same feeling.”
(In the first round last season, the Capitals lost to the Islanders 2-1 in overtime in Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in the series. They won three of the next four to advance in seven games.)

We’ve seen the Penguins and Capitals stay even with each other, as well as each team dominate possession. All signs point to this series dragging on for a few more games, but if tonight proved anything, it’s that hockey and unpredictability enjoy each other’s company.

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May 2, 2016
by Bill West


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What’s up with the Penguins’ power play?

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Nothing like a click bait-y post headline to set up some cold, sensible takes, eh?

After the Penguins scored eight power-play goals in five games against the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, much ado was made about the strength of the special teams play. And it was deserved, as the Penguins’ power play and their penalty kill both arguably overachieved.

Two games into the second-round series with the Washington Capitals, the Penguins are without a power-play goal despite seven opportunities. Somewhat predictably, the players have begun to face questions about whether they’re squandering chances against the powerhouse Capitals.

Coach Mike Sullivan and his power play skaters certainly aren’t pleased that they’re yet to put a puck in the back of the net while they have a man advantage. But they sense they’re on the cusp, a feeling confirmed by a variety of metrics.

If anything, the Penguins are actually overachieving in terms of what they’re generating during power plays.

Here’s what Sullivan said following Monday’s morning skate:

“I told our group this morning not to get discouraged because we were close. We had a number of grade-A scoring chances that we didn’t convert. Our (zone) entries were (at) a very high success rate. We won a lot of faceoffs. I think we can have a little bit more of a shooting mentality. I think we can move the puck a little bit quicker, which will help us generate more opportunities, I think. But it wasn’t far off. We’ve given our guys a couple of ideas that we think can help them in tonight’s game. What’s most important from my standpoint is that they keep their swagger and their confidence level, because they’ve been really important to helping us have success here down the stretch.”

Here are some simple stats to keep in mind: Washington finished the regular season with the second best penalty kill (85.16%) in the league, while the Rangers ranked 26th (78.19%). So the Capitals presented a greater challenge for the Penguins from the get go.

Through two games in their series with Washington, though, the Penguins produced shots, shot attempts and high-danger scoring chances at higher rates than they did against the Rangers and during the regular season.

Check the numbers, which come from War-on-Ice.com:

  • Shots attempts for, per 60 minutes: 144.9 vs Capitals, 102.1 vs Rangers, 97.2 in the regular season.
  • Shots on goal for, per 60 minutes: 53.1 vs Capitals, 48.8 vs Rangers, 54.5 in the regular season.
  • High-danger scoring chances for, per 60 minutes: 38.6 vs Capitals, 31.1 vs Rangers, 20.5 in the regular season.

Goals for, per 60 minutes, tell a different story: 0.0 vs Capitals, 17.8 vs Rangers, 6.8 in the regular season. But shooting percentage should normalize to some degree, and the Penguins will turn their many shots into a few tallies.

One area of power play execution where Sullivan likely encouraged tweaks (other than faster puck movement) would be shot location. The Capitals kept almost all of the Penguins’ power play shots on goal out at the wings and allowed very little to come from the slot or blue line. (Charts also courtesy of War-on-Ice.com.)

Pens PP Game 1 shot locateGame 2 PP shot locate

All of those blocks stuck with the Penguins’ most trusted shooters.

“They get in the lane,” Phil Kessel said. “They don’t let you get a ton of pucks to the net. And they’ve got a good goalie. So we’ve got to try and get more pucks there, create more secondary chances.”

So a little puck luck and a little more pursuit of rebounds might get the job done for the Penguins. And if that happens for a team that’s already looked so strong in five-on-five play, I’m not sure what the media will ask about then.

 

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May 1, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 2 Washington postgame (Bombulie)

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When sports writers talk about “letting a team hang around” in a game, they’re usually referring to a vastly superior team failing to put away an inferior team.

That obviously doesn’t apply to this series. These are two very good teams.

But the story of Game 2 was that the Penguins let the Capitals hang around.

The Penguins played pretty much exactly how they wanted to play. They transitioned quickly. They forced turnovers. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone.

But they could only take a 1-0 lead and needed a late Eric Fehr goal to win because they didn’t pad their lead when they had the chance.

That’s probably a pretty strong indication that no one’s going to pull away at all in this series. After tonight’s game, I expect it to go seven more than ever before.

Anyway, both coaches saw tonight’s game pretty much the same way.

Mike Sullivan: “I liked our energy. I thought we were controlling play. I thought we were coming out of our end zone very efficiently and we were hanging on to pucks down low underneath the hash marks. When we do that, I think we’re hard to play against. I thought we managed the puck through the neutral zone the right way. We tried not to feed their transition game. We tried to make the right decisions. When we do that, we’re a team that can be hard to play against. We can control territory. I thought for long stretches of the first two periods, that’s what we did.”

Barry Trotz: “In the first two periods, I thought we didn’t manage the puck. We didn’t place it in the right areas. We’d get to the red line and it was really easy for them to break out and play in our end a little bit more than we wanted them to.  … They got people stacked up at the blue line and we’re trying to skate into a hornet’s nest at the blue line and it’s not working. Put it behind them and go to work. Get it on the other side of them.”

The one thing that could have derailed the Penguins more than anything else – more than playing with five defensemen after Olli Maatta was injured on a Brooks Orpik hit, more than Braden Holtby’s strong play – was a power play that went 0 for 5.

It didn’t, which is pretty remarkable. Trying to win with tonight’s power play numbers – Washington went 1 for 2 – is playing with fire.

“There are critical moments in every game that arise, and you have to handle them the right way if you’re going to control the result,” Sullivan said. “I thought we did that tonight. It could have deflated us that our power play wasn’t at its best in the second period, but it didn’t. We didn’t allow those types of situations to get our team down.”

Bye for now,

jb

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May 1, 2016
by Bill West


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Pens-Caps Game 2 thoughts (West)

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That coach Mike Sullivan chose to openly speak out against Brooks Orpik’s hit on Olli Maatta rather than reserve judgment was a testament to the ugliness of the incident.

“I thought it was a late hit,” Sullivan said. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit that everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Plenty of chatter among members of the media after the game centered around what discipline awaits Orpik. There’s no consensus, but there’s widespread agreement about the need for a suspension.

Sullivan, who kept his comments pretty concise after the Game 1 overtime loss to Washington, spoke with considerably more personality about a variety of subjects on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. Something about this place or this team must really tap into his emotions — I still recall how much more intense and fiery he seemed during a pregame availability here on March 1. Those Terminator eyes of his remained unchanged after the Game 2 win, but he gushed about Kris Letang, Matt Murray and a variety of other topics.

On Murray, who faced 14 shots on goal in the third period after seeing just 10 in the previous two frames: “It was, I think, a challenging game in the sense that he didn’t see a lot of shots early. And then in the third period, obviously they pressed and he saw significantly more action in the third than he saw in the first two periods. But I thought his focus was really good. And when we needed him to be good down the stretch, he made that timely save for us.”

On the Penguins’ resiliency: “I just felt as though, having coached against them for a number of years, that was an area where, if we could challenge our guys to improve, we could be a better team. We could be more difficult to play against when we handle those adversities, whether it be in the course of a game or within a stretch of games, a series or whatever it may be. It’s a game where things don’t always go your way out there. It’s important as individuals and as a group that we respond the right way when things don’t go our way. I’ll give you a perfect example: The power play tonight, we had a fair amount of them in the second period, and it wasn’t our best. So we talked in between periods about putting it behind us and not letting it deflate our group. We were just going to continue to play the right way. … I give our leadership group a lot of credit, because they take the lead there for us.”

I’d argue that the Penguins’ ability to dominate possession with only five defensemen for the vast majority of the game qualified as their best showcase of resiliency. But to each his own. Check out the fancy stat possession charts below from Hockeystats.Ca and War-on-Ice.com. (A reminder that for the War-on-Ice chart, big blue squares a good and red squares are bad.)

Pens matchupsPens CAps possession final

That’s all for me — I transcribed one half of Sullivan’s press conference. Check out JB’s post for more thoughts from Terminator Mike.

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April 29, 2016
by Bill West


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What to do about Daley and Maatta?

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Just like in Round 1 against the New York Rangers, the Penguins’ defensemen found themselves answering quite a few questions at Friday’s practice about how they can better handle forecheck pressure and reduce their turnovers.

Giving up goals on these kinds of miscues will have that effect….

As was also the case in those first couple playoff games against the Rangers, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan expressed considerable faith in Maatta’s ability to bounce back from a poor performance.

“I think Olli has done a terrific job all year long (as far as) when things don’t go his way, he responds the right way,” Sullivan said. “His body of work this year has been just terrific for our team as far as helping us win. We know he’s a good player. It’s important that he responds for us because we rely on him.”

No one asked about Trevor Daley’s rough night, but I suspect Sullivan would’ve shared nice words about him, too. Rare are the moments when the coach even hints to the media that he’s not content with his players’ performances.

That said, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang wore black jerseys at Friday’s optional practice, while Maatta and Daley wore white. Defensemen rotated in and out of drills, so no clear pairing possibilities emerged, but it’s something to keep an eye on, considering how poorly Dumoulin and Daley played together on Thursday. Check out War-on-Ice’s deployment chart.

Pens pairings Game 1You’ll notice the square where Dumoulin and Letang’s rows meet is almost the same size as the square for Dumoulin and Daley. That’s an indication that Dumoulin spent about as much ice time with Letang as with Daley. And more importantly, the Dumoulin-Letang square is blue (indicates strong puck possession for Penguins), while the Dumoulin-Daley square is red (indicates poor puck possession for Penguins).

A Maatta-Daley pairing didn’t do particularly well, either. Daley basically didn’t find much possession success with any blue liner last night. He might’ve just had a bad night. He also might’ve made poor, panicked decisions after the Capitals thumped him early and often.

If Sullivan decides to use Letang and Dumoulin as his top pair, I expect the results for that tandem will go well. But question marks abound for how the team will put together its other defensive pairings.

How much does Sullivan trust Ian Cole these days? Is Derrick Pouliot even a consideration? Does Sullivan want to sit Maatta and/or Daley, or simply deploy them differently?

There’s quite a bit of pairing variety for the Penguins to ponder. Check the www.Corsica.Hockey data in the graph — I ordered it by relative Corsi For % as a way to highlight which pairings exceeded what the Penguins did as a whole. You’ll notice the Dumoulin-Lovejoy pairing and the Lovejoy-Pouliot pairing both offer promise, and Daley-Cole also isn’t a particularly bad choice. Maatta-Daley and Cole-Schultz probably are worth avoiding.

Pens bottom D pairsOne last question to consider: How much of Maatta’s success this season is actually a product of his individual play versus his presence beside Letang?

There are a variety of sites that offer With-or-Without-You data, which helps identify when one teammate kind of carries another. I went with Stats.hockeyanalysis.com because the others tend to crash my browser.

A couple things jump out about Maatta’s WOWY results: 1. He’s lacking in ice time with teammates not named Letang this season. 2. Away from Letang, his numbers dip, a sign that he’s the weaker half of that pairing.Maatta WOWY

Even if Maatta’s data includes the last several season, he rarely represents the strong half of a pairing — at least of any pairing with quality possession numbers. When with Rob Scuderi, Maatta predictably looked like the gifted half.

I predict Sullivan will stick with his trusted pairings to at least start Saturday’s game, though he might end up tinkering mid-game the way he did on Thursday.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the Penguins looked quite good after Sullivan adjusted things in Game 1. But tweaks might become more problematic if the coaching staff ends up shuffling the pairings each night.

 

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April 29, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Wilson on Sheary

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I think everyone understands that coaches defend their players in situations like this, but Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some comments about Tom Wilson’s hit on Conor Sheary in Game 1 Thursday night that I have a feeling might get the goat of some Penguins fans.

Wilson was fined $2,403.67 and not suspended. That amount was the maximum allowed by the CBA, one half of one day’s pay. Wilson made $894,166 this season.

Here’s the hit.

Here are Trotz’s comments.

I don’t see a shimmy. I also wonder what Trotz means when he says, “on both.” Does he mean Sheary did something unnecessary? That it took two to tango here? I don’t see that either.

I’m sure if a Capitals fan has stumbled across this blog, he already thinks I’m some kind of a homer with a goofy avatar pic of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, so I’ll editorialize no further. If you think I’m off base here, feel free to leave a comment.

Bye for now,

jb

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April 29, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


6 comments so far - add yours!

Game 1 Washington postgame (Bombulie)

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Let’s take a quick look at Game 1 through the lens of the postgame comments from coach Mike Sullivan.

“I didn’t see all the angles, but obviously they saw one and they felt it went in.”

T.J. Oshie’s overtime wraparound 9:33 into overtime had to be reviewed for about a minute before it was deemed a good goal, but it was. Matt Murray said he had to respect Oshie’s shot as he took the puck wide up the right wing and he thought he made it back to the post, but he didn’t.

“I thought he was fine. He made the saves. He gave us a chance to win.”

Murray’s make-up will be tested after this one. An overtime winner that went in by a matter of inches is a kick to the gut. Oshie’s second goal, which gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the third, was on a backhand shot under his right pad that Murray usually stops. The Penguins will need Murray to bounce back.

“I didn’t get an explanation and no, I’m not concerned. We’re just going to play hockey.”

Sullivan was asked if he got an explanation as to why Tom Wilson wasn’t penalized for a knee-on-knee hit on Conor Sheary. It was a nasty play. Might get reviewed by the department of player safety.

“This game could have went either way. It was an even game. Our guys played hard.”

Pens are now 1-8 in series openers against Washington in franchise history. They won seven of the previous eight series. They’re also 0-6 in Game 1 on the road since 2007.

“We tried to force a few plays east-west that weren’t there and we fed their transition game. When we do that, we get on our heels and it cost us. I thought we rectified that in the second period and for the rest of the game. I thought for the most part, our guys made pretty good decisions with the puck. When we manage the puck the right way, especially coming through the neutral zone, I think it allows us to play the speed game that we want to play.”

This is the big thing for me. Sullivan always talks about areas on the ice where it’s important not to turn pucks over. Against a team as good as the Capitals, that danger zone gets larger. The Penguins did recover, for the most part, and spent a good portion of the game with possession of the puck, but a handful of turnovers near the blue lines were fatal.

“A lot of times, Sid’s line gets the top defense pair and the checking role, or power against power like it went tonight, it provides opportunities for other lines to play against other people. Bones’ line is an important line for us. Obviously they had a solid game for us.”

I’ll just use Sullivan’s assessment of line play to point out a couple of observations based on possession stats from tonight.

Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel was on point. Kuhnhackl-Cullen-Rust was not. Mike Richards still has some game left in him. Evgeny Kuznetsov is lost at sea.

The biggest takeaway might be the night Trevor Daley had. His possession numbers were bad and he looked to be favoring a leg. It’s an angle to watch going forward.

Bye for now,

jb

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April 29, 2016
by Bill West


6 comments so far - add yours!

Game 1 Washington postgame (West)

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The Penguins and Capitals delivered drama and down-to-the-wire antics in Game 1. If the season-long data is any indication, this trend will continue for the rest of the series.

The Capitals’ best offensive push of the night came right before their first power play and continued through that man-advantage opportunity, during which they generated four shots on goal and nine shot attempts. Pens Caps Game 1 possession

Sullivan critiqued the Penguins’ puck management in the first period but considered it much improved in the second and third frame, a view supported by the data.

“We tried to force a few plays east-west that weren’t there, and we fed their transition game,” Sullivan said. “When we do that, we get on our heels, and it cost us. I thought we certainly rectified that in the second period and for the rest of the game. I thought, for the most part, our guys made pretty good decisions with the puck. I think when we manage the puck the right way, especially coming through the neutral zone, I think it allows us to play the speed game that we want to play and we force our opponents to play 200 feet.”

An edge in shot attempt totals only goes so far when the team turns the puck over in the neutral zone, though. The Penguins did themselves few favors on Thursday, even as their overall play improved. Washington’s shooters are too good to squander multiple high-percentage opportunities on the rush.

To improve some of the Penguins’ puck management miscues, Sullivan shuffled his defensive pairings a bit. The coaches “split” Daley and Dumoulin halfway through the game, Sullivan noted, though he later tried to dispel the idea that the Penguins stick with pairings in the first place.

“We don’t necessarily stick with pairs for most of the night, if you watch,” Sullivan said. “The biggest reason is because Kris Letang logs so many minutes. We’re looking to get certain people on the ice against their guys, so sometimes there’s a mismatch of pairs. But they all played together a fair amount over the last three months, so I think there’s a comfort level with however Jacques (Martin) decides to use them.”

In case anyone wondered how the matchups played out between the Penguins and Capitals, here’s War-on-Ice.com’s chart. (Big blue squares are good for the Penguins. Big red squares are bad. Gray squares represent fairly even play.)

Pens Caps Game 1 matchupsYou’ll notice three of the Penguins’ four forward lines took care of business. It’s also pretty apparent neither team tried to adjust their line matchups midway through the game.

“One of the things we like about the balance we have with the lines is a lot of times Sid’s line gets the top defense pair and the checking role or the power against power like it went tonight,” Sullivan said. “It provides the opportunity for other lines to play against other people. I thought Bone’s line was an important line for us.”

Fewer big squares and more mid-size squares among the defensemen is an indication of the mid-game assignment adjustments.

If there’s a silver lining to take from the game, it’s that the Penguins figured out what they did wrong in the first period and appeared to dictate the pace and play thereafter. They just need to clean up how they handle the puck in their own end and the neutral zone. But that’s easier said than done when the Capitals compete with such brutality.

“They put a lot of pressure on us the first couple shifts,” Brian Dumoulin said. “We had to weather that. They came out hard, and we knew they were going to do that. Once the game settled in, we kind of got relaxed a little bit more.”

— BW

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