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Conference Final

Coach's analysis: Penguins will be better against Senators in Game 2

Former NHL assistant Doug Lidster expects Pittsburgh to make adjustments after series-opening loss

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. Lidster will be checking in throughout the series.

Lidster, 56, was an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-17. He won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994 and with the Dallas Stars in 1999 during a 16-year NHL career before turning to coaching. 

The first impression was notable: It was one of exhaustion. When Doug Lidster watched the Penguins take on the Senators in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, three days after they eliminated the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the second round, he saw a letdown in their game. 

And that, he thought, was partially a factor in their inability to take advantage of power-play chances and opportunities the Senators afforded them in Game 1, a 2-1 overtime win for Ottawa at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.

"Pittsburgh just didn't look like they were emotionally there and physically there coming off that hard-fought Washington series," Lidster said Sunday. "The passes weren't sharp. I think it showed up in particular on the power play, especially in the first period. They had 3 ½ [power-play] chances, they had the 5-on-3 [power play]. If they were just a little bit sharper, I think they could have got that goal and maybe felt a little bit better about themselves, energized the building, that type of thing."

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]

 

But they didn't. Instead, the Penguins let the Senators off the hook. They were unable to take advantage of the four power plays they received in the first period, and another in the second. They did not make the Senators pay, though they did have a few chances; defenseman Ron Hainsey and forward Phil Kessel each hit the crossbar, and forward Patric Hornqvist hit the post during the game.

But they couldn't capitalize, at least not until late in the third period, when center Evgeni Malkin tied the game at 14:25. But Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan broke in alone and scored at 4:59 of overtime for the win.

That brings the Penguins to Game 2 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), when they will have to make the adjustments necessary to clean up what they weren't able to do Saturday. Lidster believes they'll be able to do so.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Fleury turns aside Karlsson's wrister

"They're the defending champions and they know what's ahead," Lidster said. "That can be both a strength and a weakness. They know what's ahead, so they're prepared for it, but they also know it's going to be hard and it's recent in memory. 

"Pittsburgh, they're like a warrior and they go, 'Jeez, we've got to go back into battle again.' And they're willing to do it, but it's just a little bit harder to get going. I don't think that'll be a problem at all because they know the importance of Game 2 here in Pittsburgh. So emotionally I think they're going to be a lot better."

There was one thing that Lidster noted in particular after listening to the postgame comments of Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who downplayed his team's work through the neutral zone, a place where many opponents get tripped up playing against Ottawa's forecheck system.

He wasn't so sure it wasn't a concern. 

"He doesn't want it to be in the players' minds that that's a strategy that was quite effective for Ottawa," Lidster said. "So I think that they're going to have to make a little bit of an adjustment there, maybe hit some late speed coming through the neutral zone and building some speed because they really didn't generate much off the rush. I think that's probably, from a technical point of view, that's one of the adjustments that they're going to have to make.

"I liked the play where [Bryan] Rust drove the net to the outside and drove right across the front of the crease. That's an effective play. I think they need to do more of that."

With more time to sort out the Senators, and especially their 1-3-1 system, the Penguins should be able to work out the kinks left over from the series against Washington, to recapture their focus and their energy. That will be crucial before Game 2, and that's especially true for a pair of players that Lidster singled out, Sidney Crosby and, especially, Malkin.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Malkin ties game with tip-in goal

"Malkin seemed frustrated," Lidster said. "These guys are great players, Malkin, Crosby, I noticed it more with Malkin. Things weren't going well. He took that penalty at the end of one of their power plays [a holding call 49 seconds into the second period]. He just seemed a little bit frustrated, and then he got the puck and he tried to do maybe a little too much on his own. They'll make that adjustment too, because they know what's expected.

"So that showed me that they were a little bit tired. You get frustrated easily, but statistic-wise, the team was pretty good faceoff-wise, but their two offensive centermen, Malkin and Crosby, they weren't very good in the circle [Crosby was 12-for-31; Malkin was 7-for-16], and they're going to have to be better because they're getting more of the offensive chances after icings and things like that, and put pressure on Ottawa."

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