5 Reasons Why the Penguins Faltered Against the Flyers

Marc-Andre Fleury Penguins

(Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers series will go down as one of the wildest series of all-time in NHL playoff hockey history. There were many incidents throughout this series that no hockey expert will ever be able to explain.

The Pens were supposed to be more experienced, have more leadership, talent, and a special teams advantage going into this series as a Stanley Cup favorite.

The Penguins sincerely disappointed the city of Pittsburgh and their fans by losing to their cross-state rivals. The obvious thing would be to bash the goaltending and defense, but the Flyers’ goaltending and defensive play was not much better. Instead, we are going to dissect the five additional reasons as to why the Penguins faltered against the Flyers.

5. Leadership

Experts talk about having playoff experience and how important of a role experience can play in the NHL post-season. The core group in the Pens’ locker room is full of playoff experience, but playoff experience is useless if there is no leadership within the room.

I cannot name a vocal leader in their locker room. I can’t even begin to pinpoint the leader. Some say Jordan Staal and others say Brooks Orpik. Sidney Crosby is the captain but he certainly is not the vocal leader.

Everyone thought the Penguins would be fine without a grizzled veteran in their locker room once Bill Guerin retired. After this series, and the path in which it took, the Pens severely miss a vocal leader like Guerin. The closest thing the Penguins may have to a vocal leader is Orpik. He expressed his emotions after falling 5-1 to the Flyers Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

“They played really really well. We didn’t play very well for three games. There’s obviously a lot of regrets in the room and stuff that you can’t take back,” said Orpik.

As Orpik may blame the first three games, the Pens laid an egg in Game 6 to go right along with the first three games. There was no urgency in a series clinching game when the Pens were trailing. You think a leader would step up, rally the team or make an impact in the game, but this was nowhere to be found.

I know that Crosby has not played consistent hockey for two years. However, he is the captain and so-called best hockey player in the world. If he does not want to be a vocal leader then he needs to lead by example. Crosby may have racked up a few points in this series, but he was completely invisible in Games 5 & 6. Maybe Sid did not have the energy and was not in as good of game shape as he has been in past years, but he needed to step up and lead vocally if not by example.

Claude Giroux was caught breaking his stick off the crossbar after Game 5 at the Consol Energy Center letting everyone know that he had seen enough. I do not know if Giroux said anything to his teammates before Game 6, but he did say something to Flyer’s head coach Peter Laviolette.

In an interview post-game, Laviolette relayed what Giroux said to the Flyers coach leading up to Game 6.

“I don’t know who you are planning on starting tonight but I want that first shift. That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there. He was so adamant that he wanted that first shift that line match-ups didn’t matter at that point. He wanted to get on the ice. He wanted to make a statement. For him to come and say that before the game, I think it speaks volume to him as who he is not only as a player and his skill but who he is as a person.”

Right after the opening faceoff, Giroux lined up Crosby right in front of the Penguins’ bench and put the Pen’s captain on his backside. Moments later, Giroux buried a wrist shot off the post 32 seconds into the game to beat Marc-Andre Fleury blocker side. Giroux told everyone right there and then that this series was ending today. That is a true leader right there. That is Mark Messier-like.

4. Superstardom

Evgeni Malkin had not lit the lamp in the first three games of this series and in 12 straight playoff games before Game 4. He’s was neutralized by 19-year-old rookie, Sean Couturier. Malkin was one of the few Penguins to give a valiant effort in Game 6 by tallying the Pens’ only goal. Geno finished the series with 8 points but was missing in action in the first three games.

Sidney Crosby also had 8 points, but isn’t he supposed to be the best player in the world? In previous years the Pen’s captain would completely control games. He would not be denied. The puck was consistently on his stick and he was creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates. However, Crosby was non-existent in Games 5 & 6, the two most important games of the season.

People can try all they want to say Crosby is the best player in the world, but right now, no one is better than Giroux. He showed he is the most clutch performer in the league right now. The Flyer’s star center leads all players in the playoffs with 6 goals, 8 assists and 14 points. He was also a +6 which leads all skaters in the post-season. He made an impact in every game in this series. Giroux was dominate on the power play and had his hand in on all of the shorthanded goals the Flyers scored in this series. There was no question he outplayed Crosby and Malkin. Giroux’s 14 points were almost as many as Crosby and Malkin combined.

3. Special Teams

The Pens were supposed to have the special teams advantage coming into this series being the only NHL club to finish the regular season in the top-10 of power play and penalty killing percentage. The Penguins finished 3rd ranked penalty killing unit in the league at 87.8% and the 5th ranked power play at 19.7%. The Pens great special teams in the regular season did not hold strong once the post-season began.

The Flyers were 12 for 23 on the power play. These numbers are actually down from what they were at the beginning of the series. The Flyer’s PP was 11-17 at one point in the series for 64.7%. They ended the 6-game special teams clinic at 52.2%. The Penguins only surrendered 33 power play goals against in 82 games in the regular season. They surrendered 12 goals in 6 playoff games.

The Penguins power play, on the other hand, did score at a 31% clip in this series. The Pens had 9 power play goals, but three of their PP goals were cancelled out when the Flyers scored 3 shorthanded goals in the series. For once the Pens scoring on the power play was not a problem.

The issue was keeping Giroux and Max Talbot from scoring shorthanded tallies. Shorthanded goals can turn around an entire playoff series. That is exactly what took place against the Penguins. In games 2 & 3, Talbot broke the ice for the Flyers and scored a shorthanded goal in both cases. The 1st goal is usually the toughest goal for a team to register each game. Once the Flyers seized momentum in each game from these two monumental shorthanded goals, the flood gates were open.

We have heard for years that the Penguins want to play 5-on-5 and are the best even strength team in the league. They killed themselves in this series by playing in too many special teams situations and having no discipline whatsoever.

2. Discipline

Since the Pen’s penalty killing unit could not successfully kill off a penalty, they needed to stay out of the box. Instead, they continued to take undisciplined penalties over and over again. Even after the street fight in Game 3, the Pens still did not learn their lesson and thought they could get away with a cheap shot here or a cheap shot there. What was it going to take for the Pens to learn they could not chance anything? If a play was the least bit questionable the refs were calling a penalty. Despite what head coach Dan Bylsma had to say about penalties, the Penguins continued to test the waters.

“We want to stay whistle to whistle and minimize the number of penalties in a game and not create those scenarios. They’ve cost us in every game.”

Chris Kunitz took some very undisciplined penalties against the Flyers (Tom Turk/THW)

Chris Kunitz took some very undisciplined penalties against the Flyers (Tom Turk/THW)

Chris Kunitz can speak exactly to what his coach is talking about and how good the Flyer’s power play was when they scored PP goals on 3 straight penalties taken by Kunitz in this series.

If you wonder why the Penguins couldn’t keep from taking ill-advised penalties, the answer may be in what Bylsma stated after Game 3 when asked about whether he thought Kunitz’s penalties were fair or undisciplined.

“My assessment is there was about three or four penalties on the play on both players and the referee called the last one on Chris.”

Kunitz’s penalties were absolutely undisciplined and the refs always call the last cheap shot given out in a bunch. Bylsma needed to be straight-forward and say they were terrible penalties and call his team out for undisciplined play.

The Penguins took 32 minor penalties and although not the case, every penalty seemed to result in a power play goal for Philadelphia. The discipline of the Pittsburgh Penguins was completely inexcusable.

1. Coaching

It was not too hard to see that Peter Laviolette out-coached Dan Bylsma in this series. Every move Laviolette made was the right move and every move Bylsma made was the wrong move. Laviolette is known for calling timeouts when the Flyers are trailing in games. While one would think this tactic would have lost its luster after some time, the Flyers continue to respond every time their coach calls a timeout. Laviolette’s timeout in Game 1 may have been one of the key reasons why the Flyers won the series.

Laviolette also matched-up lines in the series. He put Sean Couturier out against Evgeni Malkin for as many shifts as possible. While Malkin should be able to out-play a 19-year-old rookie, Bylsma should have given Malkin every advantage to score in the series. He did not. Bylsma continued to throw Malkin on the ice against Couturier. Bylsma continued to do the same thing the entire series.

Bylsma kept playing the same style the Pens had played all year. The Flyers were 4-2 against the Pens in the regular season and won the first three games of this series. Something needed to be fixed. Instead of changing the north and south style of play and stating the problem to be that the Penguins were not playing “their” game, Bylsma was stubborn and never changed a thing. There was no neutral zone trap or 1-2-2 in the offense zone to slow down the Flyers breakout. The Flyers had tons of time and space in every zone for the entire series.

NBC hockey analyst Brian Engblom stated during Game 6, “If you want to go deep into the playoffs you have to be able to play more than one way.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins played one way the entire series. The Philadelphia Flyers were the superior team in this series without question. That is why the Penguins promising season is now over.

 

Justin Glock
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.
Justin Glock
Beau Bennett may be a waste of a pick. #Pens should've prepared for this. Who didn't see this coming. http://t.co/SAfxok33tE - 1 day ago
Justin Glock

15 Comments

  1. Malkin still had 8 points and 3 goals i don’t think it shut down maybe slowed down

    • But they have different roles on their team. I read from another person too that Couturier started in his own zone the majority of the time taking defensive zone faceoffs. Look at it this way. Couturier was out there to neutralize the leading scorer in the NHL to play defense against him, and Malkin was out there to score and be the leading scorer in the playoffs. Couturier did his job and the Flyers won the series. Of course Malkin is going to get his points and he wasn’t awful, but this goes back even before the playoffs. Couturier was giving Malkin a ton of problems. I’m not positive but i’m pretty sure he killed him on faceoffs too for the entire series. There’s the “IT” factor too. Giroux was just that. Malkin and Geno were average for their skill sets. 

  2. Giroux was so dangerous on that power play.  The Pens constantly overplayed the strong side of the power play that they got picked apart when Philly passed the puck through the box.  I would have liked to have seen the Pens gone somewhat old school and put a strong shadow on Giroux and deny him the puck.  Then play 4 on 3 with the rest.  Yes, better odds than 5 on 4, but with what Giroux was doing and the clip Philly was scoring at, it might have been worth a try.

    Couturier was brilliant on Malkin.  A shutdown defensive center to do even something close to that to Giroux would have gone a long way.  None of our centers could be dedicated to doing that.  Philly turned Malkin’s line into a 4 on 4 game, and I don’t think the Pens play well in 4 on 4’s.  The Pens simply did not match up well against Philly.  Particularly Giroux.  Crosby and Malkin are scoring centers so they can’t be out there simply to shutdown Giroux.  Staal, although generally a pretty good center, is not quick enough to keep up.  Adams isn’t either.  Richard Park or Vitale perhaps.  You know that Laviolette simply told Couturier to hound Malkin to the ends of the earth.  1 job only, make the other 4 beat us.  Here is the other mismatch, the Flyer supporting  cast is deeper and more talented than the Pens’. 
    Hartnell, Jagr, Briere, Read, Schenn, Voracek, Talbot, van Riemsdyk,  and Simmonds just seemed to me as much more complete players (good skaters, fast, strong on puck, physical) than our group:  Kunitz, Neal, Dupuis, Sullivan, Kennedy, Cooke.  Pittsburgh is pretty small up front really. 

    Despres looked pretty darn good to me. 

  3. I think there’s just one reason:  since Sid came back, the Pens started to think their s*** didn’t stink.  

    • I like that reason. Someone did say that they thought once the Pens heard they were favorites to win the Cup, they started believing it without realizing how much work it takes.

  4. Best In The World says:

    Giroux had a great series. And was the best player on the ice in every game. Even game 5. 

    But let’s not get crazy. While he was the best player in the series, it doesn’t make him the best player in the league or world. 

    By comparison, Giroux has a lot to accomplish before he can enter the conversation. 

    Sid Crosby, by age 24, had won a Richard Award, an Art Ross (the youngest player in history to win), a Hart, a Pearson, A Messier, A captaincy, 2 Cup appearances and one championship, and a Gold Medal clinching goal in the Olympics. 
    And Malkin’s resume includes a few scoring titles, a Calder  a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe to go with it. Not saying Giroux doesn’t compare favorably. Or that he isn’t on their level currently. Just saying pump the brakes a bit before handing him the crown. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played in their careers. 

    • “People can try all they want to say Crosby is the best player in the world, but right now, no one is better than Giroux.” 
      I said “right now.” I didn’t say ever. I know everything you’ve listed about Sid. Giroux leads the playoffs in goals, assists, points and plus/minus. He told his team what he was going to do in Game 6 and followed through. Who is better right now in the playoffs? I’m not saying Sid hasn’t been great or can’t be great again, but Giroux made a statement. This article is about this series not what Crosby did 2 years ago and before. I think Crosby is sensational, but he was not a factor in this series and I hope he comes back like his old self next year. I’m not labeling Giroux the best player to ever lace up the skates, but currently in the NHL, there’s no one better. He backed it up on the stat sheet and off.

  5. It’s nice to finally see someone commend the Flyers on what they did right
    In the series instead of how Pittsburg threw it away. Although the Pens did
    Not play to their potential they still would have beat a lesser team.

  6. Kip Marchetti says:

    I think you nailed it. Perhaps MAF could have played better but he is far from the main reason the Pens are out. I could never imagine that I would admit publicly that Philly is the superior team but over the course of the regular season and the playoffs this was demonstrated time and again.

    Uninspired, less gritty, less tenacious, lack of leadership, coaching, and the failure of our superstars to be far less than super killed us. The Pens need to take a long look at this system that continues to fail in the playoffs and an even harder look at the present make up of this team. I love the Pens and always will but I think some changes are necessary moving forward.

  7. Is this a joke. You give 5 full reasons why they faltered but didnt mention Fluery once. He is the MAIN reason and you’re dilusional if you dont think so. Worst Save % in history of playoffs. Get Real author

    • You must’ve missed it in the 3rd paragraph when I said the Flyers and Pens goaltending was poor and basically cancelled each other out. Fleury all the way up to GM Ray Shero deserve blame, but when you’re facing a PP that is shooting from inside your crease into empty nets uncontested, no goalie is going to stop that. It’s easy to just blame the goalie, isn’t that what everyone does? Fleury also made the Pens and their defense look way better than it actually was all sesason due to his play. I tried to take a more in-depth look than just blaming the goaltender b/c anyone can do that.  Also, the Flyers had the highest power play % in one series in some time. No one has finished a series over 40% in nearly 15 years. Maybe the Flyers 52% PP had something to do with his save percentage. The Flyers were a better all-around team than the Penguins. It goes way beyond the play of Fleury. If it weren’t for Fleury the series would’ve been over in 5 instead of 6. I don’t think any other Penguins player can say they single-handedly won a game in this series for the Penguins. Fleury can in Game 5. Thats why I didn’t choose to take the easy route and blame the goaltending. Thanks for reading my article.

  8. Have to commend this assessment – Well thought-out and well-written. Especially the top-most point about the coaching, and Laviolette’s ability to adapt Philadelphia’s game on-the-fly and play a match-up style of Hockey to neutralize Pittsburgh’s snipers – While also consistentlydemanding his team not get drawn into undisciplined play.

    One small point I should like to add: Danny Briere. The goals he chipped in and the timing of those goals went a looooong way toward breaking the Penguins’ will. He was a “sneaky” X-factor that seems now to go a bit unnoticed, in the shadow of Giroux’s monster performance.

    Another consideration would be a big-picture understanding of the fourth game of the series, which saw the Penguins proverbially “blow their load” on the ten goals scored, then subsequently retreat, with a touch of overconfidence and perhaps complacency, for the next two contests – As compared with the Flyers’ having gotten their keesters handed to them (in that same Game 4) and emerging chastised and more focused and deliberate, in Games 5 & 6. It was the wake-up call they needed.

    All-in-all, the Penguins seemed to have viewed this series as a contest of opposing opportunism (trying to trade goals against a team which had Bryzgalov in net) whereas the Flyers approached it with a perspective that keyed on attrition (keeping Pittsburgh off-balance, forcing them into making uncharacteristic mistakes and making them pay for each and everyone of them, each and every time.)

    • I agree Briere was huge and seems to always pick his play up in the playoffs. The Flyers showed they could play more than one way by virtue of them blocking nearly 3 times as many shots as the Pens in Game 6. I can’t agree with the 10-goal thing though b/c I thought after Game 2 the Flyers wouldn’t come close to 8 goals again and boy was I wrong. They were better coached, played slightly better defensively which isn’t saying much and showed much better leadership. Giroux was a beast. He seemed to be at the middle of everything. He could lead the league in scoring next year, but all that matters is what  you do in the playoffs and he’s showing that he’s game. Thanks for reading my article and for liking it. I appreciate it.

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