Penguins don't test Senators enough in Game 1
Pittsburgh not panicking, knows it needs to be better after losing opener of Eastern Conference Finalby Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH -- As wild as it may sound considering all the Pittsburgh Penguins have done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, last year and long before, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final was as much a learning experience as anything else for them.
That the Penguins lost 2-1 in overtime against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday no doubt stings, but it's what they figured out in this loss that they need to make matter for Game 2 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
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For starters, the neutral zone, an area of great concern for the Penguins coming into the series considering how the Senators clog it up with their 1-3-1 system, wasn't that big of a factor in Game 1.
Yes, the Senators were able to slow the Penguins down at times, but as the game wore on it became less and less of an issue.
"I thought we did pretty well actually," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "From our estimation, we had a lot of clean entries. When we didn't, we put pucks to areas. I don't think that was the issue. I thought we got through the way we wanted to. We had a lot of offensive zone time."
That includes the third period, when they won 17 of 23 faceoffs after losing 26 of 43 through the first 40 minutes.
Faceoffs was another aspect of the game the Penguins figured out as the night went along.
"They use [their] legs so much," Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said. "[Kyle] Turris, [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau, they use [their] left legs and it's hard, but we need to learn too. [We have to] practice it [Sunday] a little bit more, [watch] video. It's not just [the] center[s]; we need to support each other."
The problem is despite getting through the neutral zone and figuring out how best to win faceoffs against the Senators, the Penguins didn't execute well enough when they had the puck in the offensive zone. They didn't get enough shots at the net to test goalie Craig Anderson or the Senators defense.
Pittsburgh was outshot 32-17 at even strength for the game. They were outshot 14-6 at even strength in the third period despite winning seven of eight faceoffs in the offensive zone and five of seven in the neutral zone.
Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey and forward Phil Kessel each had shots that went off the crossbar and forward Patric Hornqvist had a shot off the left post, but as Malkin said, "We need to score goals. Crossbar, it's not a goal. One goal is not good enough for our team."
Neither is 17 shots at even strength or 40 total shot attempts at even strength.
That's now their area of concern and will absolutely be a focal point when they get into meetings and onto the ice for practice Sunday.
"That has to be a mindset moving forward that we're not necessarily looking for the next play all the time," Sullivan said. "Ottawa defends the scoring area very well, and sometimes the best way to break down coverage is a shot on goal and a rebound goes somewhere and decisions have to be made. I think we have to look for opportunities to put more pucks at the net."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Malkin ties the game with tip-in goal
They also have to figure out a way to get the power play clicking again.
The Senators gifted the Penguins opportunities to own the first period, giving them four power play chances, including a 5-on-3 for 45 seconds. But the Penguins didn't score.
Ottawa took a 1-0 lead on Pageau's goal at 14:32 of the first period, after Pittsburgh was already 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Penguins got a fifth power play at 7:33 of the second period, but again couldn't convert. It had 10 shots on goal and 15 total shot attempts on their five power plays.
"The movement wasn't there," Sullivan said. "The passes weren't crisp."
The Penguins are 0-for-10 on the power play in the past three games.
"I think we know we have a lot of capable guys out there," forward Chris Kunitz said. "They'll look over the tape, they'll get ready and they'll be ready for Game 2."
That was the general vibe the Penguins were giving out after Game 1. Nobody expected any panic, not from this group, so it was more of a feeling of, 'OK, we saw it, we understand it, and now we know how best to attack it.'
That might be the confidence, or borderline arrogance, that this team has, that winners typically have. Regardless, the Penguins genuinely don't feel they gave the Senators much in Game 1, especially their best shot.
That better come in Game 2. There is no more room for learning experiences.
"We have to execute," Kunitz said. "We have to be better. We had spurts and shifts that we executed really well in their zone, but we have to put more pucks there. If we're going to spend that much time there, we have to put pucks [on net]."