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Stanley Cup Final

Key questions for Penguins heading into Game 5 of Cup Final

Play of Matt Murray, Phil Kessel among concerns with series against Predators tied 2-2

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- The Pittsburgh Penguins were optimistic after their 4-1 loss against the Nashville Predators in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Never mind it was their second straight loss at Bridgestone Arena and what was a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series has been erased; the Penguins thought Game 4 was their most consistent game of the series based on the looks they got and the chances they generated.

"If we continue to do that, it's going to give us a really good chance to win games," center Sidney Crosby said.

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it's because it is. That's what we heard the Predators saying after Games 1 and 2, when they dominated possession time, outshot the Penguins 64-39 and held a 117-69 in shot attempts in all situations.

 

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Nashville lost the two games by a combined 9-4.

"At this point of the season, moral victories don't do you any good," Penguins center Matt Cullen said.

Exactly.

Instead, each team in this series has two official victories going into Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). Now is when each will reset its mindset to go into what has turned into a swing game.

With that in mind, let's reset the series from the Penguins' perspective by asking and answering four pertinent questions.

 

Is it right for them to be optimistic after Game 4?

Yes.

Game 4 was the first time the Penguins appeared to find some cracks in the Predators defense on a consistent basis, not just in spurts. They were able to get the puck low and to the front of the net. They had bodies there. Crosby was dominant on nearly every shift.

The majority of Pittsburgh's scoring chances were from the high-danger area, typically known as the home-plate area, considered to run from the top of the faceoff circles through the dots and angled to the goal posts.

Video: Discussing the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4

The Penguins generated 17 high-danger scoring chances in all situations in Game 4, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. They were credited with 15 total through the first three games, including two in Game 1, when they went 37 minutes without a shot on goal but won 5-1.

In addition, the Penguins special teams were better in Game 4 than they had been at any other point in the series.

Their penalty kill went 2-for-2 and didn't allow a shot on goal after going 1-for-3 in Game 3. Their power play was 0-for-3, but it generated three shots on goal. The Penguins were 1-for-13 with four shots on goal on the power play in the first three games.

"This was definitely a step forward," forward Bryan Rust said.

 

Should there be any concern about goalie Matt Murray?

Yes. There has to be at least some concern.

Six of the eight goals Murray allowed in the two games in Nashville were scored on his glove side. The Predators appear to be targeting his glove, even on breakaways, which forward Viktor Arvidsson did to score his goal at 13:08 of the second period to give Nashville a 3-1 lead.

Murray allowed eight goals on 58 shots in Games 3 and 4 (.862 save percentage). He has allowed 12 goals on 122 shots in the series (.901 save percentage).

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked if Murray will start in Game 5. He didn't answer the question. It won't be the last time it will come up.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Murray stones Neal twice with his pad

 

What's going on with forward Phil Kessel?

This one is a bit of a mystery.

Sullivan said he felt Kessel had more of a shooter's mentality in Game 4 and the stats somewhat back him up. Kessel had two shots on goal and seven total shot attempts. However, he had three shots and five shot attempts in Game 3, and the complaint was he wasn't shooting enough.

Sullivan and assistant Rick Tocchet each said Kessel passed up opportunities to shoot in Game 3. He did the same in Game 4, especially when he had the puck and what appeared to be a shooting lane coming off of the left-wing wall on the power play.

Kessel has one of the best wrist shots in the NHL and he needs to use it more. He has no goals in his past six games and one in his past nine.

 

Is the defense holding up?

Kind of.

The Penguins already were at a disadvantage on defense going into the series because they don't have Kris Letang available and the Predators have arguably the best top-four group of defensemen in the League with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm.

Pittsburgh's six defensemen haven't been difference makers, but they haven't been a detriment, either. The unit has been guilty of some unforced giveaways; Ron Hainsey, Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta in particular, but they were better at helping kick-start the offense in Game 4.

However, the Penguins defensive coverage in the two games in Nashville, forwards included, was shaky at times.

Tightening up their play away from the puck and getting the puck out of the zone when the opportunity presents itself will be key if they plan to win Game 5.

"These games are a lot closer than sometimes the score indicates," Sullivan said. "I think that was the case in our building [in Games 1 and 2] and I think that was the case in this building [Bridgestone Arena for Games 3 and 4].

"We've just got to go back home and we've got to respond the right way."

Video: Matt Cullen on getting more shots in Game 4

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