Penguins focus on fixing what went wrong in playoffs
Friday, 09.13.2013 / 6:00 AM
By Wes Crosby - NHL.com Correspondent
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' loss to the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final still lingers within the locker room. But instead of allowing the loss to define them, the Penguins are focused on ensuring it doesn't happen again.
A year removed from being ousted in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2, Pittsburgh seemed to have exorcised its postseason demons with its march to the conference final. But the Penguins were swiftly swept, leaving another impressive regular season without the validation that comes with a Stanley Cup.
The players have tried to put last postseason behind them and focus on preparing for another run at a championship.
"I think you have to get over it pretty quickly and realize that there's a long season ahead of us and we've got to learn from that," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You can't dwell on it. So, I think we've moved on."
But the disappointment still comes to mind, and the team plans to use it to improve. Forward Pascal Dupuis said the forwards cannot afford to put pressure on their defense by going through long goal droughts, which were prevalent in the Boston series.
"You lose in the first round, you lose in the third round and you still lose, you didn't accomplish your goal of winning the Stanley Cup," Dupuis said. "It's a goal every year to win it and this year is no different. Yes, we're going to learn from last year, the way we got beat there by Boston, but it's a new year."
An explosive offense that averaged 3.38 goals per game, best in the NHL, only mustered two goals in the conference final. Coach Dan Bylsma said he expects to use the turmoil the offense -- the power play, in particular -- went through in that series to help avoid letting it affect Pittsburgh's play this season.
"We lost in the conference finals, we do not win a game in the conference finals. We're not going to shy away from that and [we're] looking at ways where we came up short and what we need to do better as a team and add to our team," Bylsma said. "That's not something we're looking to do come April 20, when the playoffs come around. We have to build that now into our team.
"We've certainly been affected by it, looked at it, tried to have a reason why we couldn't get a goal, a power-play goal, or what happened in that particular instance to our power play that was good in every other situation throughout the year."
The Penguins failed to score a goal on any of their 15 power plays that series, including six in a 2-1 double-overtime loss in Game 3, after taking advantage of 24.7 percent of their regular-season chances, good for second in the NHL behind the Washington Capitals.
But Pittsburgh's lack of offense in that series isn't the only problem it is attempting to rectify, as it allowed nine goals in the first two games. The defense and goaltender Tomas Vokoun rebounded nicely, allowing three goals in the final two games, but questions still surround starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury had a regular season worthy of Vezina Trophy consideration, but struggled in the playoffs with a 3.52 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. The 28-year-old, who helped lead the Penguins to their 2009 Stanley Cup championship, said he has reflected on last postseason to find ways to improve.
"Last season was good. There were a couple of rough games in the playoffs, but I'm not going to quit playing hockey because of that," Fleury said. "You learn from it. I try to figure it out, what's going on. Look back on every goal, try to find ways to stop [the puck] and some were unfortunate bounces, some were not good goals. … I look at it, think about it and try to be better."
Fleury's teammates have said they are confident with Fleury in net, with defenseman Paul Martin saying, "When he's on his game, there's nobody better."
Bylsma echoed those sentiments and put pressure on the entire team to improve from last season, starting in the weeks leading up to the regular season.
"We hope to continue to win 70 percent of our games in the regular season, but there are certain things we look to adjust too, and always have and always will," Bylsma said. "Defensively, there are a few adjustments that we're going to add to our scheme … and I think we have to look at a transition to offense in the neutral zone a little bit differently.
"There are areas where we can build as a group, as a whole, not necessarily just schematically. We can add to our team."
The changes will be aimed at making Pittsburgh a more prepared team immediately, and center Evgeni Malkin said he expects the players to prove they are capable of greatness by showing resiliency coming off of the conference final.
"The motivation is just win the Stanley Cup," Malkin said. "Everyone has great motivation because we lost last year, but it's a new season with new motivation. It's a new game, we have new teammates, but we're still a great team."