- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PITTSBURGH - A lot can happen in just more than 135 minutes.

You could watch an Academy Award-winning film - say, “No Country for Old Men,” “Rocky” or “Chariots of Fire” for instance. Two efficient starting pitchers could finish a baseball game.

An NHL team also can play almost seven periods of hockey in that span - and that is how long the Pittsburgh Penguins have gone without scoring a goal. After back-to-back shutout losses in Detroit, the Penguins returned home and still searched for answers yesterday about how to crack the Red Wings’ defense.

“It is always frustrating when you don’t score,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think you have to make sure in the playoffs - you’re not going to get a lot of chances. But when you do, you have to make sure you put them in.”

Pittsburgh’s most prominent problem on offense is the Penguins aren’t playing nearly enough of it. The Red Wings are known as a puck-possession team, and they have dominated in that area in the first two games.

The Penguins are blessed with an arsenal of offensive weapons, but no team can score if it doesn’t have the puck.

“It is not a lot of fun. It feels like you are chasing the puck all night,” Penguins forward Gary Roberts said. “That’s what it has felt like for us - we’re chasing the puck all over the ice. You use up so much energy trying to find the puck that by the time you get it you’re exhausted.”

Detroit’s ability to play keep-away is problematic enough, but the Red Wings have compounded that by stifling the Penguins and forcing them - when they do get possession - to give it back. Their pressure-packed system loosely resembles a fullcourt press in basketball, and the Penguins have not handled it well.

It starts in the Penguins’ defensive zone. The Red Wings try to pressure opposing defensemen into making hasty decisions with the puck, and turnovers at this stage can lead to quick goals (Mikael Samuelsson’s second tally in Game 1 is a perfect example).

Pittsburgh’s success against teams like Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia came in large part from its ability to build speed through the neutral zone and attack the defense in a number of different ways.

The Red Wings have turned Pittsburgh’s strength into a weakness. When the Penguins have navigated out of their own end, Detroit has suffocated them between the blue lines.

No crisp outlet passes, no magical puck-dangling displays - just plenty of turnovers or harmless dump-ins.

“We’ve got to move our feet and manage [the puck] well,” Crosby said. “We can’t give it back to them easily. Sometimes we have to be smarter with our dumps and maybe have a little more patience instead of getting the puck forward maybe making a few passes and not get sucked into areas where they want us to go.”

Sure, the Penguins need to produce goals on the power play (0-for-8 in two games), and top players like Evgeni Malkin (one shot in two games), Ryan Malone (one shot and four penalties) and Petr Sykora (zero shots) need to play much better. But their inability to get shots is, save for a few good shifts from Crosby’s line in both games and a couple from Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Roberts in Game 2, a team-wide pandemic.

Until the Penguins figure out to go get the puck from the Red Wings and then keep it long enough to create consistent scoring chances, Pittsburgh’s scoring drought could reach “Titanic” proportions.

“I don’t want to sit here and give them too much credit,” Roberts said. “We haven’t played our game plan either. We can’t sit back here and be shell-shocked that we are playing a team that doesn’t give us the puck. We’ve got to find a way to get the puck.”

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