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Thread: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

      
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    Default Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    As it is after every loss, especially in the Playoffs, you have a fan base out in full force complaining about something that went wrong. Usually there's a player or 2 that are made out to be the scapegoat for the loss, which in this case is Marc-Andre Fleury who saw 5 pucks behind him in the net regardless of how many were his fault or not.

    Head Coach Dan Bylsma even jumped on the blame Fleury game in a recent interview as he chose to point out Fleury ;

    "I think there's a couple that he's going to be thinking about, that he's gonna want back," Bylsma said, "and (he) knows he can be a lot better in those situations to give us a chance."
    33c3cbl.jpgThat's all natural. You have to expect that a fan base and the media will point blame at the goaltender when 5 goals are allowed. You have to expect that finer points of the game will be ignored in a team sports when it's easy to and lazy to point fingers at an individual(s). We are talking about the general audience that just cheers for wins that views the game little more than pass, shoot, block and hit. It's also not a surprise to hear Dan Bylsma not place the blame on his shoulders even though he easily could have. The Penguins came into their arena with a loud and energetic crowd as defending champs and looked like they were no more prepared to play a Pre-Season game let alone a Playoff game.

    Whether it was Fleury allowing soft goals to Chris Neil or the Penalty Kill leaving Erik Karlsson wide open backdoor there was one consistent issue with the Penguins last night as a team against Ottawa that has been a consistent issue for a great part of this season, especially the past month - Neutral Zone Play. Guys like Fleury, Malkin even Crosby have their inconsistent moments where one game they look like world beaters and the next game they are either MIA or allowing soft goal on top of soft goal. However, it's the consistent problems that are going to hurt this team most.

    We can talk about forechecking systems like a 2-1-2, 1-2-2, 1-4 Traps and so on but those systems are forechecking systems that require possession of the puck and are designed for offensive zone play. Yes, the Penguins looked like they were playing Michel Therrien's passive 1-2-2 swing system instead of Dan Bylsma's aggressive 2-1-2 system. The reason for this all stems from the Neutral Zone Play of the Penguins against Ottawa and an inability to even attempt to adjust by the players and/or coaching staff.


    Let's expand on this a little further. Hockey is a game of possession. You can win games being outshot and not possessing the puck often but it's rare and not something you want to or can rely on. The simplistic key is to have the puck on your blade and get it off the opponents blade. Sounds simple, right? It's not that simple. Lace up some skates, go out on the ice and move at those speeds. Everything looks slower on T.V. than it does in real life. That is why there are systems, schemes, assignments, responsibilities, positioning and all sorts of other variables that most hockey fans know little about that actually make up more than 50% of the game.

    Against Ottawa, The Senators had a hell of a game plan and Bob Errey pointed some of it out. The plan had nothing to do with the Senators forecheck which was bland, it was what the Senators were doing to the Pens in the Neutral Zone. Ottawa was committing at least 3 guys in a triangle to smother the puck carrier and force turnovers or cross ice passes that would get picked off. Ottawa prevented the Pens from entering their zone with any speed. They prevented the Pens from being able to activate their forecheck because they took time, space and speed away in the Neutral Zone. Ottawa did the very thing that I pointed out in the Keys to the game for the Penguins ; Ottawa dictated how the game would be played.

    119qwkg.jpgWhen you dictate how the game is played, you force the other team to make mistakes and press, which also leads to mistakes. The Penguins fell right into this trap and the most pathetic thing about it was that the Pens coaching staff made zero adjustments during either intermission. That's worrisome, because this has been an issue most of the season with this team that the coaching staff hasn't corrected and it looks like they weren't concerned about it for the Playoffs. The Ottawa Senators took a page from the New Jersey Devils 2009-10 Game Planning Book on how to stop the Penguins.

    On the other side of the coin regarding the Neutral Zone Play, defensively we were sloppy and looked uninterested. None of the forwards appeared to be committed to playing a tight Neutral Zone game which allowed the Senators access into the Pens zone often and easily. That can't happen. While Ottawa lacks firepower and skill, they are a physical team on the forecheck and down low, who like the New Jersey Devils can easily out muscle any of the Pens undersized and unphysical defenseman down low in cycles and forechecks. They did just that last night. Combine that with a group of Pittsburgh Penguins forwards that have looked completely lost in their own zone defensively all season long and you get missed assignments, poor positioning and Senators players open.

    The Pens best defense is their offense. The Pens best offense is going to be their play in the Neutral Zone.


    These aren't necessarily "keys" to the game but they are aspects that the Pens have to spend time on in practice to rectify before Friday's game. I'm avoiding anything that is individual player related since a novel can be written on that topic.

    1. Break Ottawa's defensive Triangle in the Neutral Zone. - There's nothing bigger than this. If the Pens don't, they'll never gain speed into the Senators zone and without speed they'll never be able to get their forecheck working since they'll be a player late against 2 Senators defensemen down low. If the Pens can break this, it will expose the Senators big time because they are really over committing a lot of personnel to shut down a single player in the Neutral Zone.

    2. Fix the Penalty Kill. It was almost a thing of amazement and beauty to see Mike Yeo's incompetent Power Play score twice last night. It was also amazing and shocking to see a 9th ranked Penalty Kill that killed over 84% of the opportunities against during the Regular Season give up 2 PP goals against a team only converting 16.9% of the time. It's the Playoffs, you have to win the Special Teams battle. The Pens Penalty Kill has to be a strength and difference maker.

    3. Better Defensive Play and Backchecking by the Forwards - It's not the Defensemen that will make the biggest difference, it will be the Forwards. It sounds insane, but there's not a team in this league with a defensive corps. that can shut down a team alone. The Detroit Red Wings aren't a strong team because Brian Rafalski is a bad *** defenseman. They are a stingy team defensively because their forwards shutdown the Neutral Zone, backcheck hard and claim the correct guy in their own zone. Those are the things that the Penguins did in the Playoffs last season that they haven't done during the Regular Season and definitely didn't do last night against Ottawa.

    Ottawa lacks offensive skill and fire power. A little dedication to neutral zone defense and defensive zone responsibilities would really shut down a team like Ottawa offensively.


    If anything else, this opening game of the Playoffs loss should hopefully serve as a reminder to the Penguins players and Coaching Staff that the Playoffs have begun. Teams are now game planning to win, certain aspects of the game that are much more relaxed in the Regular Season are now key points for game plans now. Having a little more intensity and desire isn't always enough in the Playoffs, it's the abundance of smaller details that add up to make a difference.

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    Last edited by Kipper; Oct-09-2012 at 02:41 PM.
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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    Absolutely great job on this one...

    While I was somewhat less than happy with Fleury's play last night, I'm not ready to draw the "panic" card just yet...

    ... One game does not a season make, and while the play was substantially less than stellar, there is plenty of time to turn it around... But that's the thing... Can they? There was basically "zero" momentum going into the playoffs, and they look somewhat "stale" to me.

    Either way, and for all the explanations given in the article, things need to change... And in a hurry if we want to be celebrating with this again this season...


    Last edited by Palmetto Steel; Apr-15-2010 at 07:07 PM.
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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to take what the other teams gives you. The Pens didn't have the jump the Sens did, as indicated by being routinely being beaten to loose pucks. The Sens played simply by getting in the face of the Pens, as they have throughout the season series. Oddly enough, it's the same tactics employed by the Devils and the Caps. If the Pens made it through the neutral zone, they were stood up at the blue line.

    The Pens need to properly dump and chase, then pummel and pound. This is what is being offered, yet not taken. Granted, it not their game, but you take what you can get. Their best offensive surges came from doing exactly that. It's not a mystery, but I haven't quite figured out if the coaches don't see it or the players are not buying into it.

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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    Ah yes, the dreaded neutral zone trap that we hear so much of in shutting us down...

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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    I think we'll destroy them. The one thing I've noticed was the good work done by Volchenkov. "Ottawa did the very thing that I pointed out in the Keys to the game for the Penguins ; Ottawa dictated how the game would be played." exactly. We need to establish our game in order to be successful and get our puck transition in order. Good offense comes from defense, get the puck out calmly and create offense. Fleury was bad, but some of the bounces come on. And they needed all that to win.
    Last edited by Xterratu; Apr-16-2010 at 12:16 PM.

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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    Quote Originally Posted by ihateusernames View Post
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    Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to take what the other teams gives you. The Pens didn't have the jump the Sens did, as indicated by being routinely being beaten to loose pucks. The Sens played simply by getting in the face of the Pens, as they have throughout the season series. Oddly enough, it's the same tactics employed by the Devils and the Caps. If the Pens made it through the neutral zone, they were stood up at the blue line.

    The Pens need to properly dump and chase, then pummel and pound. This is what is being offered, yet not taken. Granted, it not their game, but you take what you can get. Their best offensive surges came from doing exactly that. It's not a mystery, but I haven't quite figured out if the coaches don't see it or the players are not buying into it.
    The Devils and Caps are completely different animals. the Caps don't really have much of a neutral zone game defensively (it's kind of tough when you have multiple wingers per line hanging out waiting to cherry pick ) but the Devils... most definitely... and we all saw the same issues the Pens had against the Devils this season happen against Ottawa. New jersey just has a better offense and transition game....

    The same issue though is that the Pens are simply not being patient enough in the Neutral Zone. That's why these defenses are called "traps" they are designed into trapping or tricking you into doing things you don't want to do which in this case is - turnovers which makes Ottawa spend more time playing half of the ice.

    There's various ways to beat traps now and with the elimination of 2 line passes, moving the blue lines and such, it's now a matter of patience.

    I still contend that the most efficient way to break neutral zone play like this is to be the ones on the defensive creating turnovers. With the Pens speed and transition, forcing turnovers in the Neutral zone will create more offensive zone chances than dump and chases through traps
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    Default Re: Did the Pens Forget The Importance Of Neutral Zone Play?

    True, but the more time you spend in the offensive zone means less time trying to beat a trap or any other scheme. So, in the end you get into the offensive zone as quickly as possible and do your own thing, which eventually will take the oomph out of the opposition.

    As far as the Caps go, I should've stated their game is to produce an inordinate amount of offensive pressure by constantly being in your face, then capitalize on mistakes. In either case, thorough pressure in the defensive or neutral zones gives the Pens fits. Thus, you sometimes have to take what the other teams give you. For the Pens, that means getting into and staying in the offensive zone as quickly as possible.

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