PITTSBURGH -- Number-crunching or video watching isn’t necessary to determine why the Pittsburgh Penguins trail the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Their dreadful special-teams performance is endangering the Penguins’ season going into Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.
The Flyers’ power play is converting at a 60-percent success rate (9-of-15), a remarkably high percentage that dwarfs the next best in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the Panthers and Blues are at 37.5 percent). The Penguins, except for their 10-3 win Wednesday in Game 4, can’t seem to stay out of the penalty box -- and, when they do occupy it, the puck can’t seem to stay out of their net.
For the first time since the Penguins owned a 3-0 lead in Game 1, before they went on to lose 4-3 in overtime and set the tone for the all-Pennsylvania series, they tightened up their special-teams play by holding the Flyers scoreless in the final two periods of Game 4.
If the Penguins are to keep playing in a series in which their next loss ends their season, coach Dan Bylsma said it’s evident what must happen.
“Our penalty kill is going to have to win us a game,” Bylsma said Friday.
Bylsma said it’s not as if the Flyers have dramatically altered what they do with the man advantage.
“We know exactly what the Flyers have done all year long. There are other teams that have power plays that are very similar. We know what to expect,” Bylsma said. “They’ve found ways to get goals on rushes, they’ve gotten goals on scrambles, coming out of scrambles and their set up. A little bit of that is more mental than anything. … We have to keep the momentum (from Game 4) and win a game special teams-wise.”
Bylsma dressed a seventh defenseman for Game 4 and may do the same Friday to help lessen the manpower load on an under-siege penalty kill.
Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said the Flyers present problems that not all teams do. He didn’t detail all of them, but it’s evident that the Flyers’ speed, their deep group of forwards and their determination to succeed on special teams have perplexed the Penguins.
“Like I’ve been saying all along, they’re a good team. They work hard, they put the puck deep and they finish checks,” Michalek said. “They’re going to make it hard on us. We’ve got to make sure we take care of the puck better, don’t turn the puck over and now we’ve got to go out there and execute all those things.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby suggested a strong special-team effort in Game 5 could begin to swing the momentum of a series that, except for Game 4 and the start of Game 1, has belonged to the Flyers. During the season, the Penguins’ penalty-killing unit was the third-best in the League with an 87.8-percent success rate.
“Every team kind of goes through tough stints where it feels like every chance a team gets, it goes in your net,” Crosby said. “I think the PK still has a lot of confidence in what it needs to do. They know when the time comes, it’s the timing of the penalty kills that are the most important sometimes. We know we can depend on them for a big kill when we need it.”