Penguins dominating 5-on-5 vs. Lightning
Share with others:
It is not the most eye-catching statistic to come out of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.
That likely would be Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning averaging a goal per game. Or Arron Asham of the Penguins scoring three in four games after getting just five in the regular season. Perhaps Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson's .943 save percentage. Or Zbynek Michalek matching Kris Letang's average of four shots per game.
But none of those is the most significant number generated through the first four games.
That distinction belongs to the Penguins' 8-3 advantage in five-on-five goals, for it is the primary reason they have a 3-1 lead in the series and can lock up a berth in the second round with a victory in Game 5 at 12:08 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
The striking thing is not that the Penguins have generated eight, but that the Lightning has been held to three -- fewest of any team in these playoffs -- after averaging 1.87 in the regular season.
"That's where our best structure is, five-on-five," Penguins left winger Mike Rupp said. "The details of our game have allowed us to not give up too many goals this year. We feel coming into this series -- coming into any series, really -- that that's an advantage for us, to play five-on-five."
That was particularly true in Games 1-3, because the Lightning scored two of its three five-on-five goals in the Penguins' 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 4 Wednesday.
The pronounced edge in even-strength goals (Tampa Bay also got one while playing four-on-four) has countered the impact of the Lightning's 4-1 advantage in power-play goals.
"It's usually a series about special teams, but we're doing really well on that," Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said before Game 4. "It's five-on-five play that's hurting us right now. We need to find a healthy balance."
If so, the Lightning will have to find a way to spend more time in the Penguins end when the teams are at full strength. That hasn't happened very often so far, and it isn't an accident.
"We take a lot of pride in the way we play our system," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. "Everybody's doing their job.
"We're getting the puck up the ice, putting it in the right areas to get it back. Using our speed to get up on the forecheck. We're doing a good job of getting out of the [defensive] zone as quick as we can."
Tampa Bay's success on the power play has stemmed from getting pucks on goal and grabbing the rebounds, but doing that has been a lot tougher when the Penguins aren't down a man.
At full strength, they have not allowed the Lightning to capitalize on rebounds being given up by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury because they are blocking out the Tampa Bay forwards and/or clearing the puck before any of the Lightning can reach it.
That translates to very few extended stretches in the Penguins end.
"We need a little more offensive-zone time," St. Louis said. "We're one [shot] and done a lot of the time. We're not getting to the rebounds as much as we would like.
"Therefore, the other team gets it and gets out. We have to be a little bit hungry, tougher, below the hash marks. ... You can't let yourself get boxed out. You have to fight for your space."
The problem for the Lightning is that many of those battles are being fought in its end of the ice. The Penguins aren't just getting the puck out of their zone; they are getting it into the Tampa Bay end and often keeping it there for a while.
Menacing as guys like St. Louis, Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne can be, they are not much of a threat when they are operating 170 or so feet away from Fleury.
"It's common sense that if they're not in their [offensive] zone, there's not too many scoring chances that are going to happen," Rupp said.
True enough, but the Penguins also recognize that Tampa Bay's quick-strike capability -- think of St. Louis' second-period goal in Game 4 -- could alter the course of the series in a couple of shifts.
"There is not a person in our room that thinks that this is over or is going to be easy," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And I think we have a good understanding of how dangerous that team is."