The Pittsburgh Penguins fell 5-2 to the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the first round, evening the series 1-1. For the second-straight game, it seemed as if both teams were evenly matched, with the scoring chances favoring the Penguins by a slight margin (39-35).
If you're a Penguins fan, you're probably happy to see a split in the first couple of games in this series, but with Game 3 in Pittsburgh, the Penguins have a few glaring holes in their lineup.
The Penguins have been lucky to get great performances from Brian Boyle and Jeff Carter for stretches of this season. Boyle, a 37-year-old fourth liner, came to the Penguins on a PTO (Paid Try-Out) and made the team due to injuries at the center position.
After a year away from the game, the veteran was a staple for the team and even added a slight scoring touch with 11 goals. However, in this series, Boyle seems to be a step behind the quick-footed New York Rangers.
Through two games Boyle has averaged 13:16 of ice time and hasn't contributed on the scoresheet. Worse than that, he has been out of place defensively at 5v5 and on the penalty kill.
In Game 1, he finished with a team-low 15:59 of ice time (in a game spanning 106 minutes), most likely due to his lack of defensive awareness, which caused him to cover the point instead of the cutting. Andrew Copp would then bury the Rangers second goal of the game.
He followed that up with a performance where he repeatedly failed to clear the puck on the penalty kill and get embarrassed in the high slot by an Adam Fox pump fake. Once Jason Zucker inevitably returns to the lineup, Boyle should be scratched in favor of a player like Drew O'Connor.
O'Connor played in his first career playoff game last night and, despite only playing under seven minutes, was able to show off the positives of him being in the lineup. His ability to get in fast on the forecheck, as well as his transition speed was on full display early on in Game 2.
While he was a -2 on the scoresheet, he produced an even number of scoring chances (4-4) when he was on the ice at 5v5, according to Natural Stat Trick. O'Connor's skill set seems to match up better with how the Penguins are looking to stifle the Rangers attack.
Jeff Carter is an entirely different situation. Carter has looked like a pedestrian on the third line for the better part of the calendar year, scoring just three times in the final month of the season.
This series has provided more of the same for Carter. The only notable play on his resume was his run-in with Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin late in last night's contest.
While Carter hasn't directly been costing the Penguins goals, his lack of production is stalling his linemates in this series. Unfortunately, the Penguins aren't exactly full of players with recent and extensive experience at the center position. Evan Rodrigues stepped into that role early in the season but has played much better on the wing this season.
The Penguins could consider minimizing Carter's role by swapping him with current fourth-line center Teddy Blueger. While Blueger hasn't been much better offensively, he provides the necessary speed and forechecking ability to potentially open up scoring chances for wingers like Rodrigues and Brock McGinn. Both have played considerably better than their center to this point.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has always been loyal to his players, and that may continue with Boyle and Carter. But a look at the first two games of this series would suggest that something needs to change in the Penguins bottom six.
Game 3 of this series will be on Saturday at PGG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Make sure you bookmark Inside the Penguins for the latest news, exclusive interviews, breakdowns and so much more!