After the Penguins lost Game 1 of their Second Round series against the New York Rangers in overtime, 3-2, the team as a whole said they need to play better.
But in what ways do they need to play better?
One thing that was making its rounds from the players’ mouths was “getting to the offensive zone.”
James Neal: “We have to get into the offensive zone right away from the first shift and put pucks there because that’s where the goals are going to be scored.”
Lee Stempniak: “To me the key for success is rolling our lines over and spending a lot of time in the offensive zone.”
Jussi Jokinen: “When you get momentum you want to keep playing in their zone and keep getting scoring chances and get goals.”
Craig Adams: “When we limit our mistakes and play in the offensive zone, just like any team, we look a lot better.”
The Penguins’ system is built on playing in the offensive zone and establishing a forecheck. When the Penguins execute that strategy best – see the second period of Game 1 where they outshot the Rangers by a count of 15-4 – Pittsburgh looks like a dominant force.
“When we’re at our best we’re in on the forecheck, creating turnovers and getting those second and third chances,” Stempniak said. “The onus is on us to do that every shift and put in the hard work, skate and be aggressive, create those turnovers.”
But when the Penguins are getting stuck in their own zone – see the first period of Game 1 – the opposition dictates the pace and game.
“There will be ups and downs in games,” Adams said. “Look at our first period compared to our second period. We need to be more like the second all the time.”
Realistically, the Penguins know they aren’t going to play an entire 60 minutes in the offensive zone. After all, the Rangers are a quality team. They won’t go down without a fight and at times will have their fair share of success.
“We’re playing against good teams. We can’t forget that,” Adams said. “They’re trying to win, too.”
The Penguins goal is to tilt the play in their favor, spending 60 percent of the game in the offensive zone and forcing the play.
But playing in the offensive zone isn’t just about where the puck is. It starts with proper defensive positioning and breakouts from the defensive zone, quick transitions and entries through the neutral zone and establishing a forecheck and cycle once in the offensive zone. When the Penguins can execute those aspects properly then the final outcome is offensive zone time.
“Things we talk about are pretty simple things,” Stempniak said. “We’re positive as a group in terms of what we’re doing and what we want to accomplish.”
Jokinen summed it up best.
“What made us successful in Games 5 and 6 against Columbus was that we played a lot in the offensive zone,” Jokinen said. “We kept coming at them. That’s what we have to be able to do the whole game in the next game.”