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Room to improve on the blueline

 
Posted April 16th, 2014 @ 10:57pm

 

It’s a six pack the coaching staff intends to savor, but it didn’t go down smoothly for openers.

Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin looked out of sorts, even vulnerable in the defensive zone.

Rob Scuderi was whistled for just his second penalty all season.

Kris Letang hemorrhaged a short-handed breakaway and took two undisciplined penalties.

Olli Maatta got spun prior to another Blue Jackets’ unimpeded race to the cage.

Game 1 against Columbus was just the 10th game all season that the Penguins had the defensive pairings of Scuderi-Letang, Orpik-Martin and Maatta-Matt Niskanen at their disposal.

They’ll be looking for much more from those guys in Game 2 on Saturday night after their come-from-behind, 4-3 victory in the opener.

Game 1’s uneven effort on the back end doesn’t figure to shake the Pens’ confidence in the pairs they had been longing to deploy since October.

Not based on assistant coach Todd Reirden’s emphatic endorsement of the group prior to the postseason puck drop at CONSOL.

“Right now we’ve got good balance on all three pairs,” Reirden had assessed. “I think it will allow me to not rely so heavily on just two or three guys. I really like the makeup of all three pairs.

“I think it’s exciting, the way we break pucks out and the way we play in the offensive zone, the way we play in the defensive zone. We rely on the mobility of our guys and the ability to execute plays.

“This is our most highly-skilled group, both offensively and defensively. It’s going to give us a good chance to spend less time in our defensive zone. I’d really like to keep these three groups together and move forward from here.”

That, at least, was the pre-series theory.

Reirden had reserved the right to make in-game adjustments within the six based on whether the Penguins were leading or trailing.

But the Penguins rode out the rough spots at the outset in Game 1.

And after finally managing a lead midway through the third period, they closed Columbus out with a steady diet of Orpik-Martin, Maatta-Niskanen and Scuderi-Letang down the stretch.

It’s probably going to have to be that way for the Penguins to achieve anything significant this postseason.

Letang, who took his second penalty with 8:27 remaining in regulation, clearly has a lot of room to improve.

By that point he had already been yanked from the No. 1 power-play unit.

His adventures weren’t unanticipated, given his work-in-progress return from a stroke.

“I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we said he’s up to full playoff potential right now,” Reirden said. “I think he’ll continue to get better game by game.”

The hope after Game 1 is they all will, with the obvious exception of Niskanen.

It isn’t an unrealistic expectation.

 

    

 

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