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Conference Final

Coach's analysis: Aggressiveness helps Penguins entering Game 5

Former NHL assistant Doug Lidster says being ready to 'battle' is key vs. Senators

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Doug Lidster to break down the action from the Penguins' perspective. Lidster will be checking in throughout the series.

Lidster, 56, was an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-2017. He won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Dallas Stars in 1999 during a 16-year NHL career.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]

 

As he watched Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators on Friday, former NHL assistant Doug Lidster saw that the Penguins had done exactly what they needed to do: Start strong, start aggressively, and not let up.

As he said, "Basically kind of flipped the tables, didn't we?"

And that all started with goaltender Matt Murray, after coach Mike Sullivan made the controversial choice to go with him in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, after Fleury had started the first 15 games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Penguins.

"Murray was great," Lidster said. "I know that was a tough decision for the coach to make. But Murray was great. He made a couple of real key saves there early. I particularly liked the one he made on [forward Derick] Brassard on the side of the net. He had made one earlier on a wraparound. He was good, so that helped [Pittsburgh] get energized."

Video: Jaffe and Pang wrap up PIT-OTT Game 4

But that wasn't the only reason that the Penguins won 3-2 in Ottawa to tie the series 2-2 heading into Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). It was also what the Penguins were doing on the rest of the ice.

"They had a real good solid first period," Lidster said. "Their passing was a lot crisper, their shift length was short; they were right into the game. You could tell: They were ready to battle."

Not only were the Penguins able to prevent Ottawa from getting into its game and its system, they were able to send a message, about how the game would go and how the series would go, that they weren't going to let what happened in Game 3, when the Senators scored four first-period goals and won 5-1, happen again.

"They were winning races and battles and creating off the rush," Lidster said. "Their [defensemen] were involved in the attack, which was nice to see because they're missing their offensive defensemen (Kris Letang and Justin Schultz), but they were still up there involved in the attack. They were just sharp. You knew they weren't going to be denied. They weren't going to go down without a fight."

That doesn't mean that the Penguins were perfect, and there are still improvements to be made in Game 5, when they will attempt to put themselves one win from the Stanley Cup Final. There are things that Lidster still doesn't see them doing, or doing enough.

"I'd still like to see them go get a little more in the face of [goaltender Craig] Anderson, but they're starting to pressure the defense here by driving to the net," Lidster said. "You saw what happened with the goal that went off [Senators defenseman Dion] Phaneuf's skate. He's worried about [Penguins forward Evgeni] Malkin driving the net, he's picking him up, and things like that happen when you've got guys that are going toward the net, being aggressive."

The idea is to get the Senators to play on their heels, using the aggressiveness of their forwards, which is Pittsburgh's strength.

Another area where Lidster sees promise is on the Penguins penalty kill, which has yet to allow the struggling Senators power play to score. The Senators have not scored in their past 25 chances on the power play, dating back to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Rangers. Lidster, though, warns that the Penguins can't keep taking penalties on their line changes, as they did Friday when they twice had too many men on the ice.

"Their PK was solid," Lidster said. "Specialty teams is always a key. They scored, Crosby scored (on the power play in the second period). Those things, they're always important. They've got to continue to do that because the PK and the power play, they're potential momentum shifts, and so if they continue with the strong specialty teams, that'll go a long way to having some success.

"I thought that what Pittsburgh did particularly well on the PK was they were denying the entries, and so that's a two-way street. Certainly Ottawa's execution could be better, but Pittsburgh is doing a real good job taking away time and space."

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