Head coach Dan Bylsma has been in trouble with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round before.
Try last year, when the Pens met the Philadelphia Flyers. While it was expected to be a high-scoring series between two offensive-minded teams, the Penguins appeared to have the edge with the explosive Evgeni Malkin in the lineup along with the returning Sidney Crosby.
While the Penguins scored enough goals, the defense was abominable and the Penguins were run out of the playoffs in six games.
Marc-Andre Fleury (26 goals allowed in six games) was bad for the Penguins and so was the Pittsburgh defense.
This year, the opponent is the upstart New York Islanders. The Penguins were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference this year and the Islanders finished as the eighth seed.
The Penguins were expected to roll in four or five games, at the most.
It started out just like that, as Pittsburgh won the opener 5-0. But since then, the Islanders have won two of three games and they have out-skated and outplayed the Penguins.
The most notable problem for the Penguins has been the abysmal play of Fleury in the net. Once again.
He has been unsure of himself on his skates, he has taken bad angles when facing the shooter and he has lacked confidence in his performance.
Fleury has a 3.40 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage in the first four games of the series.
"We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us and be a goaltender we could count on to go in and play big games," coach Dan Bylsma told reporters on Wednesday (through NHL.com). "He's done that this year for us and he has been very good against the Islanders in three games he's played against the Islanders. We're getting a guy who's real capable at going in and has been a great goalie for us."
While that move makes sense, Vokoun (2.45 GAA, .919 save percentage) is not Superman, and the Penguins have no guarantees that he will play better than Fleury in this series.
In fact, if Vokoun doesn't get any more help from his defense than Fleury got, he may have his problems holding down the Islanders as well.
The Penguins defense appeared to be skating in mud when the play was in their defensive zone Tuesday night against New York.
Most notable was the amount of freedom the Islanders were given below the goal line by Pittsburgh. It wasn't a matter of the Islanders winning heavy-duty puck battles to gain possession and make plays; it was simply a matter of beating the Pens to the spot, picking up the puck and not getting challenged.
The Islanders came through with a 6-4 victory in Game 4 to tie the series. John Tavares and Matt Moulson were regularly able to operate with complete freedom below the goal line.
If veteran forward Brad Boyes had not fired so many of his shots off line, the Islanders could have had even more goals.
The Penguins' poor defensive showing came on the heels of defenseman Kris Letang being named a Norris Trophy finalist. He did not assert himself against New York and neither did defensemen Mark Eaton (minus-two) or Brooks Orpik (minus-one).
The forwards don't get off the hook, either. They rarely came into their own zone to do any serious backchecking. They seemed content to clog the middle, but they were not consistent in their defensive effort.
This is the same Penguins team that went on a 15-game winning streak in March. That streak was accomplished primarily with outstanding defensive play. The Pens held their opponents to two goals or fewer in 11 consecutive games during that streak.
That kind of play is a distant memory right now.
The Penguins appear to be letting another first-round series slip through their grasp.
They still have time to turn it around, and Bylsma's decision to change goalies is the right move.
However, if the Pens don't improve their team defense and start picking the Islanders up in the defensive zone, changing goalies may not make a difference.
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