Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: 5 Things Penguins Must Do To Bounceback In Game Two

Quick Turnaround To Steal Home Ice Depends On Changes

Chris Mack
April 11, 2019 - 11:17 am
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The Penguins' Game One loss to the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Wednesday night wasn't shocking. Disappointing, to be sure. Especially considering the way their defensemen played after nearly a week of reinforcement from their head coach regarding their irresponsible play this season. After 64 minutes of mostly risk-free work from their blueliners, Mike Sullivan and his staff saw Kris Letang try to dangle his way through three Islanders at the top of the offensive zone only to have the puck picked off his stick and sent the other way for Josh Bailey's game-winning overtime goal.

Related: Grove: Biggest Wounds In Penguins Game 1 Loss To Islanders Self-Inflicted

How can the Penguins avoid coming home down 2-0 in a series most locally have predicted them to win in five or six games? Here are five things that will instantly push them in a positive direction.

1) Insert Jack Johnson back in the lineup

Since February 23rd, Johnson has worked seamlessly alongside Justin Schultz to not just suck up minutes, but to do so effectively. With the the size to keep space in front of Matt Murray's crease clear, Johnson's presence was missed in Game 1 when he was surprisingly replaced by Olli Maatta. Maatta was victimized on multiple Islanders' goals and was unable to rekindle the chemistry he and Schultz had during much of the Pens' two Stanley Cup runs.

2) Play tougher in the corners

A chip-and-chase style is necessary for the Penguins to break through the picket fence set up by Barry Trotz at the Isles' blueline, and despite not being the fastest team in the world anymore, the Pens do have the proper combination of grit and quickness to go get pucks in the corners. Were they outhustled Wednesday night by an Islanders team feeding off the energy of the Nassau Coliseum crowd? Or are they simply softer than New York? It's hard to believe a team with Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, and Nick Bjugstad on their top three lines can't use physicality to their advantage.

3) Put Jared McCann back on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel

Crosby, Guentzel, and Rust produced just six total shot attempts, and five of them came from the captain. At even strength they produced just one -!*ONE*!- scoring chance. At no point in time has McCann looked out of place on the Pens' top forward unit. In fact, he was an integral part of its success in the final third of the season, scoring 11 goals in 32 games after coming over from Florida with Bjugstad in the Derick Brassard/Riley Sheahan deal. The 22-year old did nothing to get yanked off the 1st line, much the same way Johnson did nothing to be pulled out of the lineup. Put them both back where they belong.

4) Get Teddy Blueger back in the lineup

While we're tweaking personnel for Friday night's matchup, let's add Teddy Big Goals back into the mix on the 4th line. With Zack Aston-Reese back from injury and flanking Matt Cullen, it would be helpful to have the finishing touch Garret Wilson can't provide without losing any sandpaper.

5) Have the better goaltender

Just to be clear: Wednesday night's loss is not Matt Murray's fault. He isn't responsible for the slop of a game played in front of him, and neither is he responsible for Robin Lehner stopping 41 Penguin shots. However, much like a starting pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football is charged with outdueling his counterpart, Murray will have to be the better goaltender in four of the next six games if the Pens hope to advance. Lehner got lucky at points in Game One - consider Phil Kessel missing a wide open net on a prime scoring opportunity in the 2nd period - but he also made big stops. Murray made all of the saves he was supposed to, but didn't make any of the saves we wouldn't normally expect of him. He will have to steal at least one game in this series, and Wednesday was not it.

It's early. Just one game into a best-of-seven series that many expected to go at least six games. There's no reason to panic. But there's also no reason to try some of the same failed tactics of Game One if the Penguins want to win Game Two, come back home tied 1-1, and steal home ice.