PITTSBURGH -- What was once the Pittsburgh Penguins' primary strength has turned into a weakness.
After coming back from a two-goal deficit to win Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins surrendered a two-goal lead in their 4-3 double-overtime loss in Game 2 on Saturday. Special teams were a catalyst for Columbus in building a lead early Game 1 and evaporating Pittsburgh's lead in Game 2.
Five of the Blue Jackets' seven goals in the series have been scored via their special teams, including one shorthanded goal in each game. Columbus has cracked Pittsburgh's once-stellar power-play and penalty-killing units, which simultaneously topped the NHL rankings at one point during the regular season.
The Blue Jackets have been aggressive when down a man, leading to several shorthanded scoring opportunities. After Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert's shorthanded goal in the second period of Game 2, the Penguins allowed two more shorthanded chances during the same power play, including one off a 2-on-1.
"We need to take advantage of their aggressiveness," Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. "We have to come in and possess the puck. If they're over-pursuing, somebody can make one play and put pucks to the net and score goals. When they do that, they second-guess themselves and get in between, and it really opens up the ice.
"So, puck possession, but also making that first play where they're being overaggressive and get caught in between, and we're going to have a lot of time to be able to shoot it."
Pittsburgh's special teams began to struggle late in the season without key pieces in forward Evgeni Malkin, and defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin. But the Penguins have continued to struggle despite welcoming those three back to the lineup and have made adjustments to their power play, including replacing Letang with defenseman Matt Niskanen on the top unit.
"With the group that we have, I think we can support each other a little better," Martin said. "I think we've left some guys out to dry and we've only left cross-ice passes or shots on boards where guys have to chase it. I think we can support each other a little better, especially coming into the zone where we can get it set up and then once we get it set up, the options open up for us as far as getting pucks to the net.
"We have a lot of guys down low that can make stuff happen."
Gibbons is day-to-day, according to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who said Pittsburgh was prepared for a physical test entering the series and will need to carry that mindset as the series heads to Nationwide Arena for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, FS-O, CBC, RDS2).
"I think they do have more hits in both games than we've had. That's really a part of the makeup of their team and a part of how they play and exactly what we expect from them," Bylsma said. "I thought we made some adjustments in Game 2 to what we did and it was successful in a lot of ways. This game kind of turned on special teams and shorthanded goals and power-play goals that they got."