Pittsburgh Penguins

Column: Penguins defense needs a shake up for Game Three

Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have played two games so far in their best of seven series and they are tied 1-1 as the series shifts back to New York. The Penguins ended up losing Game 2 when they had a chance to take a 2-0 series lead. The game wasn’t pretty, to say the least, as turnovers and some bad defensive breakdowns proved costly.

Even though the Penguins may be getting starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury back from a concussion next game, there are a few adjustments that Mike Sullivan should make to his player personnel.

Bench Olli Maatta 

This may come as a surprise to some people, but Olli Maatta just has not been the same player this year. The downtick in play most likely has to do with the injuries he’s suffered this season. On the Derick Brassard goal from Saturday, Brassard came into the zone at less than full speed and Maatta just couldn’t catch him. This could be a real concern if he’s still not 100 percent.

Maatta also flubbed a play that nearly led to a goal when Derek Stepan grabbed the puck off his stick at center ice and got a breakaway. Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff bailed him out, but it was an uncharacteristic mistake.

Even while being paired with possible Norris finalist Kris Letang, Maatta just can’t seem to play well.

Hopefully a date with the pressbox would get him a little healthier so that he can be better when he potentially comes back in the playoffs.

Play Derrick Pouliot

31 March 2016: Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Derrick Pouliot (51) handles the puck. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

For some reason Mike Sullivan just won’t play the young defenseman. Sitting Pouliot in the pressbox each game isn’t going to teach him anything.

The kid needs to play and he can really help the team win — he put up a startlingly good 58.5 percent all situations Corsi For percentage during the regular season. On a team that’s making its living on puck possession, that can’t go unnoticed.

He also can’t learn from his mistakes on the ice by being in the pressbox.

Pouliot can really help on the power play, which has suffered over the past month for the Penguins since Evgeni Malkin was on injured reserve. He’d be an excellent quarterback for the second power play unit, which would be a huge boost for the Penguins who had issues scoring Saturday.

Even though his defensive game isn’t as good as his offensive game, it’s still better then a player like Ben Lovejoy who continues to see ice time despite his errant passes on Pittsburgh’s breakouts — ones that usually result in icings.

Hopefully Mike Sullivan will give Pouliot a chance to show how good he is in game three for Pittsburgh.

Play “their” game

Mike Sullivan always says that “When we play our game, we can beat any team in the league.” That hasn’t happened yet for the Penguins in this series, despite winning game one.

The Penguins have been the best possession team in the NHL down the last stretch of the regular season, yet they are being dominated by the Rangers in possession — one of the worst possession teams in hockey.

It may have to do with the Penguins sheltering backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, but there is still no excuse for being hemmed into their own zone like that. They also usually outshoot each team they play by a large margin but we haven’t seen that this series from them at all. It’s very unusual for these Penguins.

The Penguins haven’t lost back-to-back games since the middle of January, so it’s safe to expect Mike Sullivan to make sure they get back on track. Making a few changes on defense could speed up their play and expose some weaknesses in the Rangers.

 

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