Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes of NHL Network will be offering his pluses and minuses. Weekes also will be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The Stanley Cup Final is upon us. Game 1 on Monday saw the Pittsburgh Penguins dominate early and late in a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks to take a 1-0 lead in the final series of the season.
After a slow start in Game 1, I expect the Sharks to play better now that they know what to expect on the big stage, playing in their first Cup Final game in franchise history. San Jose had the best road record during the regular season, but is 5-5 away from home in the playoffs.
The Sharks try to tie the series at 1-1 on the road and the Penguins look to go up 2-0, and move to within two wins of hoisting the Cup for the fourth time in their history, in Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Despite being outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0, San Jose didn't fall apart after a poor first period. The Sharks played a good second period, outshooting the Penguins 13-8 and tying the game 2-2. Chalk it up to first-period jitters or inexperience in the Cup Final, with forward Dainius Zubrus the lone player to have played in a Stanley Cup Final before, but San Jose responded in the second. The game was less than four minutes from going into overtime, when anything can happen, so the Sharks can at least be confident knowing they can play with the Penguins.
Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Marleau beats Murray, ties game in 2nd
Goaltender Martin Jones was amazing and kept them in Game 1. He made 38 saves, including 13 in the first period and 17 in the third period, to keep the game tied until late. Jones has been solid throughout the playoffs and was no different in Game 1. The Sharks likely will need him to be just as good in Game 2.
The power play came through again for San Jose. The Sharks were 1-for-2, getting on the board when Tomas Hertl made it 2-1 in the second period. San Jose's power play has been one of the best in the playoffs, with goals in 12 of 19 games, including two or more power-play goals in five games. The more opportunities with the man-advantage the Sharks get, the higher the likelihood of them winning.
Minuses: As already mentioned, the Sharks had a bad first period, and they certainly don't want to come out flat again and be dominated early in Game 2. The crowd will be a factor again and the Penguins know how important a 2-0 series lead is rather than heading back to San Jose tied 1-1.
The Sharks didn't play their puck-possession game. They didn't cycle the puck well and didn't have enough zone time. In addition to the 41 shots on goal allowed, Pittsburgh had 26 shots blocked or missed; that's 67 total shot attempts. That number needs to be lower in Game 2.
San Jose was unable to match the Penguins speed with positioning and power. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said before the series he knew Pittsburgh's speed was going to be a challenge, and he was right. Sharks centers Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton each had two shots on goal. Defenseman Brent Burns had three, but also had five shots blocked and five that missed the net.
Pluses: The Penguins had a great start in Game 1, outshooting the Sharks 15-4 and scoring twice. They played their speed and pressure game both offensively and defensively, and it worked.
Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Rust, Sheary give Pens an early lead
Pittsburgh showed no signs of fatigue after having played seven games in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and were not caught up in the moment with several players having experience from the 2009 Cup Final. Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury all remain from that Cup-winning team.
And we can't forget about the production from the "HBK" line. Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel have been great all postseason. Kessel leads the Penguins with 18 points (nine goals) and his line was on the ice for the game-winning goal late in the third period in Game 1, scored by Bonino and assisted by Hagelin and Letang.
Not only is Bonino (four goals, 12 assists) stepping up, but Pittsburgh's young players, including Bryan Rust, 24, (six goals, three assists), Conor Sheary, 23, (three goals, five assists) and Tom Kuhnhackl, 24, (two goals, three assists), have stepped up both offensively and defensively.
Minuses: Pittsburgh had some lapses in Game 1, mostly in the second period when it allowed two goals, was outshot 13-8 and outplayed. True, the Penguins dominated the other two periods, but if not for a late third-period goal, the game could have gone to overtime. The Penguins can't let up and need to play Game 2 the way they did in the first period of Game 1.
Malkin has yet to take over a game in the playoffs. He has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 18 games this postseason and had a five-game point streak (one goal, five assists) stopped in Game 1 against the Sharks, but hasn't shown flashes of the player he can be since Game 3 of the first round against the New York Rangers when he had two goals and two assists and did everything for the Penguins in a 5-0 win.
Video: Sullivan leads Pens in Gm1 of the SCF vs. Sharks
Lastly, the power play can be better. Pittsburgh was 0-for-3 in the first round and scored four goals on 24 chances in the conference final and three on 19 chances in the second round against the Washington Capitals. The 7-for-43 (16.3 percent) in the previous two rounds should be better when you look at who the Penguins have on their power-play units in Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Kunitz, Letang, etc.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Do the Sharks play their game? San Jose was shy on the big stage early in Game 1.
2. Will the Penguins play as fast and physical as they did in Game 1? Each team had 36 hits, but Pittsburgh was by far the faster team.
3. What adjustments will the Sharks make? Now that the Game 1 jitters are over, how will San Jose respond in Game 2?