The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final with the intention of providing an improved performance from their first game. Having been shutout by the Boston Bruins on home-ice, the Penguins hoped to salvage the effort by tying the series at one in anticipation of Game 3.
However, things did not go according to plan, and the heavy-favorite in the East finds itself in an undesirable conundrum. Not only did the Penguins fail to win one of two games at home, the team appeared to be no-match for the Bruins and has been unable to capitalize on its biggest strength.
Boasting one of the most impressive collections of offensive talent in recent memory, Pittsburgh has rarely struggled to produce this season. Defense, however, has been a different story.
Before Game 2, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma expressed that his team did not expect to play a wide-open game against the Bruins. Meaning, they did not want their offense to come at the expense of defense.
"We're not trying to exploit offense or go for offense at the sake of playing a run-and-gun game or chance for chance," he said after morning skate on Monday. "We don't like the number of chances we gave up last game for the Bruins and don't like the opportunities we gave them.
"We're not looking to play an 8-to-6 game or a 7-to-5 game and hope we can outscore -- I think the first team to score a goal is going to win this hockey game tonight."
Turns out he was partially right, as Brad Marchand scored 28 seconds into the contest, which came at the expense of a Pittsburgh turnover in the offensive zone. While the Penguins were unable to produce eight goals, the Bruins had no problem living up to their end of the bargain by scoring six.
This is were the issue lies for the Penguins.
Boston could be pigeon-holed as a defensive-oriented squad. That doesn't mean it can't produce offense, because it certainly has a talented group of players on its roster, but the team's strength is its ability to shut the door on opponents. Pittsburgh is the opposite of that. It scores goals and it scores a lot of them. More often than not, one could tune into a Penguins' game this year and expect a wide-open contest. Defense did not appear to be a necessary requirement for the occasion.
Through two games in this series, Pittsburgh has no offense and no defense. The Bruins have outscored their opponents, 9-1, and have dominated all phases of the game. While Pittsburgh's goaltending situation might be a hot topic leading up to Game 3, the team's lack of offense appears to be a much bigger problem.
Regardless of who starts in net, the Penguins need to score goals. They haven't done that. Boston has managed to utilize its strength on defense to generate offense. This has led to odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns that have largely come as a by-product of Pittsburgh mental lapses or turnovers.
What is most mystifying about this situation is how the Penguins fix this glaring issue. The Bruins appear to be patiently waiting for opportunity by protecting their zone and building offensive attacks by countering off Pittsburgh's. At times, watching the Penguins has been the equivalent of spectating someone repeatedly walking into a door without realizing there is a handle.
The Penguins certainly have the talent to surmount this undesirable start to the series. Conversely, Boston has enough talent to put the Penguins to rest. Regardless of experiences from the Bruins past, if Pittsburgh fails to win Game 3, this series likely won't extend much further beyond that contest.
While the Bruins' lead is multi-faceted, Pittsburgh's failed approach in the offensive zone appears to be a primary catalyst for the cause. An improved performance in that area could result in a change of tide for the Penguins. Of course, figuring out how to manifest that change is easier said than done.