The Bruins took a 2-0 series lead over the Penguins by coasting their way to a 6-1 win on Monday night. It was one of those games where the underlying numbers don't matter as much because the game was pretty much over after the first period. Boston scored on their first scoring chance of the game and ended up leading 4-1 after 20 minutes thanks to some horrific defensive play and sub-par goaltending from the Penguins. After that, the Bruins focused on protecting their lead rather than pouring it on and it really frustrated the Pens, as they had a lot of issues with getting past Boston's defensive shell. Claude Julien tends to play a trap when his team has a lead and that's exactly what we saw tonight.
With the Bruins sitting back and leading by three or more goals for 40+ minutes, the final numbers from this game were very misleading. The Penguins actually outchanced the Bruins 15-13 overall and 12-11 at even strength while having a sizable territorial advantage on top of that. However, the Pens advantage in scoring chances becomes less meaningful when you take into consideration that they recorded over half of them in the third period when the game was basically out of reach. Boston had some defensive lapses and Rask made a few very good saves, but the Pens barely threatened at all when the score was reasonably close. Pittsburgh played an awful first period and it allowed Boston to basically run away and coast their way to a 2-0 series lead.
Whether it was their strong power play, goal-scoring talent or ability to capitalize on other team's mistakes, Pittsburgh has been able to bail themselves out of a lot of tough situations this post-season. That has come to a halt these last two games and it doesn't surprise me. Boston has better goaltending than the Islanders, so Pittsburgh is going to have trouble playing from behind and their own goalies are less likely to cover up their team's mistakes because the Bruins have a more dangerous lineup than the Senators. It all equates to the Penguins struggling through this series unless their team's play improves.
Pittsburgh has the ability to at least match Boston, if not beat them, at even strength so the situation isn't hopeless but it's getting ugly fast.
The Penguins ended up with the advantage in scoring chances thanks to a little thing called "score effects," but the Bruins had control of them from the drop of the puck. They dominated the first period, built a huge lead and then just focused the rest of the way. They were outchanced 12-6 in the final two periods, and that mostly had to do with their strategy rather than the Penguins controlling the play. Whenever the Bruins had the puck in the second and third period, they either just got it deep or cycled it around and melted time off the clock. There wasn't a need for Boston to press that much since they had a big lead and the only time they were creating chances were off Pittsburgh's mistakes, see Patrice Bergeron's goal for an example of that.
As far as Boston's containment of the Penguins goes, I think they did a pretty solid job at it. They only gave up 12 even strength chances in the entire game and allowed only seven total chances in the first two periods combined, which is a solid defensive effort in my book. The Penguins also received some bad goaltending, which resulted in them getting blown out, but it wasn't the reason they lost. Vokoun was not good, but there wasn't a lot he could do about two of them and Marc-Andre Fleury was left hung out to dry on the Bergeron goal. Both of them left in a couple of softies, too but I don't think either had impact on the Penguins winning or losing the game because Pittsburgh dug themselves into a huge hole with some awful defensive play in the first period.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Joe Vitale, Evgeni Malkin & Jarome Iginla +2
Worst EV Forward: Pascal Dupuis -2
Best EV Defenseman: Deryk Engelland +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Kris Letang -5
Most of the talk for Pittsburgh in the post-game reports is that their best players were not stepping up to the challenge with Sidney Crosby taking most of the criticism. Most of it was deserved because while he wasn't awful, he was quiet for most of the game and made an awful turnover at the blue-line on the first Boston goal. Dan Bylsma did his best to play to Crosby's strengths by sheltering him territorially and trying to keep him away from Patrice Bergeron, but neither worked out as Crosby created only one total scoring chance in the entire game. In addition to that, Crosby was on the ice for only three of Pittsburgh's even strength scoring chances in the entire game, so that should tell you how well Boston was able to contain the NHL's best player.
This is the second game in a row that the Bruins have been able to shut down Crosby's line and they were able to keep Malkin's line relatively in check, too. Malkin, Neal and Iginla were responsible for a little under half of Pittsburgh's even strength offense, but they are capable of doing more than this and displayed some comically bad defense on the Krejci & Bergeron goals respectively. In fairness to them, they weren't given much help from the rearguards who were on the ice with them, most notably Kris Letang, who had one of the worst playoff showings from a defenseman in as long as I can remember.
Letang did his best Jack Johnson impersonation by constantly getting caught in no-man's land in his own zone and making a few baffling decisions with the puck. It resulted in him being on the ice for four goals and all but two of the Bruins even strength scoring chances. The worst part was that he made some critical mistakes on all four of the goals, his most egregious error coming on Nathan Horton's goal where he attempted to make a pass up the middle of the ice from behind his own net. It was predictably intercepted by the Bruins and a goal soon followed. He was also caught deep on Marchand's first goal and took himself out of position on Krejci's goal, giving the Bruins top line a ton of room to set up a play in the slot.
I don't want to be too hard on Letang since he wasn't the only player who had a bad game and these kinds of mistakes happen with a defenseman who handles the puck a lot, but he has to be a lot better defensively than he was in this game. Whenever a player with Letang's workload is on the ice for nearly 10 scoring chances against during even strength play alone, it's pretty alarming. The fact that he wasn't making up for it offensively just adds salt to the wound. That being said, the rest of the Penguins top players also need to improve because I'm not sure how far they'll go if their depth players are the only guys creating more offense than they are giving up.
Bruins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Brad Marchand +4
Worst EV Forwards: David Krejci, Milan Lucic & Gregory Campbell -4
Best EV Defenseman: Dennis Seidenberg +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Adam McQuaid -1
The Bruins first line creating only one scoring chance as a trio ultimately did not hurt the team at all because that one chance resulted in a goal and their second line was outstanding. Bergeron, Marchand and Jagr carried over their fantastic play from Game 1 by producing three goals and completely shutting down the Penguins offense whenever they were on the ice. They've been doing it by forcing turnovers and keeping the Penguins hemmed into their own zone whenever they are on the ice, the latter being the most important since that has mitigated the impact of Pittsburgh's top forwards. Bergeron's play against Crosby and Malkin's line was something a lot of people were going to have their eyes on this series and so far, Bergeron's line has dominated.
Another reason the Bruins were able to survive despite their top line having somewhat of an "off-night" was their third line having a bounce-back game and contributing well at both ends. Seguin had a much better game offensively and his line did not allow much to the Pens offense even when the Bruins were playing more conservative. The entire forward corps played fairly well defensively despite a couple players getting outchanced by a sizable margin. I would chalk that up to score effects.
An interesting observation I saw throughout the game was Bylsma getting Crosby away from Zdeno Chara by sending him out against the Bruins second defense pairing fairly often. Both Ference & Boychuk played well considering the circumstances and both Chara & Seidenberg did an excellent job against Malkin's line. Some players weren't as impressive as others but in the end, there wasn't much to dislike about the B's performance in Game 2.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Once again, the Bergeron line was all over Crosby, as the scoring chances were going in the Bruins favor whenever these two were matched up against each other. The only time Crosby was able to generate much offense was when his line was out against Chris Kelly's line & the Bruins third defense pairing. Julien isn't going to let that happen when he has control of the matchups. Letang & Martin's performance against the Bruins top-nine should also concern Penguins fans because they are expected to perform much better against this kind of competition. Really, the only encouraging sign for the Penguins is Malkin's performance against the Bruins first line & second defense pairing and I'm sure how much score effects played a role there since Boston's first line isn't going to be limited to only one chance very often.
So what do the Penguins do now? They could probably shake off Game 1 as a night where things didn't go their way, but this was just ugly. Many of the issues that were present in their Islanders series have shown up again and the Pens haven't been able to score their way out of trouble this time. Tuukka Rask is part of that problem but the Pens have also been outplayed at even strength at both games and if that trend continues, this series could be over quicker than many thought.