The Pittsburgh Penguins‘ victory over the Anaheim Ducks was the start of an evolution. An evolutionary process that simply has to happen if the Penguins want to be anything other than the usual regular season cinderellas that they’ve been for the past five seasons.
The evolution that I am speaking of is change. Change that is bound to happen and needs to happen for the Penguins to actually be a Stanley Cup contending hockey team. The past two games, Penguins fans saw lines broken up, defensively smart hockey and a team that actually had the look of a contender.
Marc Andre Fleury continues to dazzle in net, but we have seen this song and dance before only to be let down in the postseason. The Penguins need Fleury to be outstanding this season to position themselves in the Metropolitan Division as well as the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. What happens outside of the blue paint is what seems to have changed the most.
The Penguins typical up-and-down game has certainly changed over the course of the last two games. With the threat of Ducks forwards and the always lethal Washington Capitals forwards that can handle the puck and score with just as much ease as the Penguins, the emphasis was switched from outscoring to out smarting. Not so much out smarting in a schematic sense, but more so from a simplistic philosophy.
Dan Bylsma loves the schemes that are complex and can reap major rewards if run successfully, but sometimes you have to follow the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) plan. The last two games you have seen a Penguins team that has moved the puck deliberately, but has kept the turnovers to a minimum and have maximized their scoring opportunities. When you have players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on your roster, those scoring chances will be converted more times than not.
What has been even more enjoyable to see has been a net front presence. Actually getting traffic in front of opposing goaltenders has increased the Penguins chances at deflections, rebounds and those shots that seem as if the puck actually has eyes. Those goals might not be as pretty to watch, but last I checked there wasn’t a beauty contest for goals scored.
These are all steps in the evolutionary process. If the Penguins want to continue this process they need to continue to out smart their opposition by not hand wrapping victories for them with sloppy play and turnovers. Keep it simple, and the Penguins will be sitting pretty in terms of playoff positioning come April.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz.