By Darren Eliot, SI.com
So, this is the speed and skill series we all anticipated? The Red Wings have held up their end of the bargain by playing a complete game on both sides of the proverbial puck equation. In so doing, they have stifled the suddenly punchless Penguins. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (photo)compounded matters with two shaky efforts that led to an easy 2-0 Wings lead. But let's not focus on what the Pens didn't do. Instead, let's first acknowledge the Red Wings excellence and then look at what needs to happen at home for Pittsburgh.
At Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings dominated in every aspect of the game. They made posting two shutouts look easy while limiting the Penguins to a paltry 41 shots on goal. They had the puck a lot more and when they didn't, they won it back more efficiently. Not surprisingly, the Penguins were frustrated to distraction, putting the Wings on the power play eight times in Game Two. And while the Wings didn't tally with the man advantage, the Pens were not able to establish anything resembling offensive flow.
With the series shifting to Pittsburgh, the Pens can take solace in the fact that they have been a much better team at home -- where they have yet to lose a single game during this playoff run -- than on the road. The main reason for that has to do with Fleury's fine play in Pittsburgh. He has performed much better throughout his career at Mellon Arena than elsewhere, so hopefully the change of scenery will eliminate the mistakes that plagued him in Detroit. As important is the home-road disparity when it comes to Evgeni Malkin's production. He seems to play with much more passion and fan-fueled energy at Mellon Arena.
To me, the Penguins must have Malkin engage in the next two games if they are to have any chance of turning this series around. So much of their success has been the specter of having to "pick your poison" as an opponent as to whether the focus should be on Malkin's line or Sidney Crosby's. With Malkin bringing nothing in the first two games, the Penguins suffered mightily in terms of establishing any kind of offensive momentum.
Beyond personnel, consider these game aspects and weigh in with your opinion as to what you think needs to change for the Penguins:
1. Face-offs: With the home-ice face-off advantage, can the Penguins start with the puck more than they did while in Detroit?
2. Neutral Zone: Are the Penguins now aware of Nik Kronwall's propensity to step up on the right-winger and how to avoid his breakout-altering presence?
3. Forecheck: Will the friendly vibe in the building provide enough of an extra step for the Penguin forwards, allowing them to finally get to the Wings' D and force at least a few turnovers?
4. Breakout: Conversely, can the Pens' D find a way to move the puck more crisply when exiting their zone - an area exposed in the first two games by the savvy skating of the Red Wings' forwards?
Whatever your point of view, the burden remains with the Penguins to adjust and execute. So far, it has been unequivocally all Detroit.
Darren Eliot is TV analyst and Hockey Development Liaison for the Atlanta Thrashers. He also appears on Versus playoff broadcasts and Westwood One radio.