Penguins need to adjust despite win in Cup Final opener
Know they must execute better, use speed more effectively against Predators in Game 2by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Some of the analysis and questions sounded similar to Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on Tuesday because they weren't all that different from what he heard and had to answer the day after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The difference is Crosby spoke about adjustments the Penguins needed to make 14 hours after they defeated the Nashville Predators 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.
The center talked about many of those same things after the Penguins lost 2-1 in overtime to the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of the conference final on May 13.
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"I feel like both those times we were talking about how we felt our own game wasn't where it needed to be," Crosby said. "You try to find that balance of making those subtle adjustments but also knowing that our own game has some work [to do] and we've got to get that going too."
No question about it.
The Penguins did not play up to their standards in Game 1. They lacked energy. They looked slow. They weren't crisp. The only time they executed for consecutive minutes was late in the first period, when they scored three goals in a span of 4:11 to take a 3-0 lead.
Pittsburgh didn't have a shot on goal between center Nick Bonino's goal that made it 3-0 with 16.1 seconds left in the first period and forward Jake Guentzel's game-winning goal with 3:17 left in the third. That's 37:00 without testing Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
Meanwhile, Nashville scored three goals, had 14 shots on goal and a 28-13 advantage in shot attempts in all situations, including 22-13 at 5-on-5, during that 37-minute stretch.
Video: Guentzel's late goal lifts Pens past Preds in Game 1
Just for comparison's sake, in Game 1 of the conference final the Senators outshot the Penguins 32-17 at even strength and finished with a 49-34 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts. Pittsburgh had more possession time in that game, but didn't generate much.
"I think a lot of it [Monday] was a function of our energy level and our ability to establish that skating game that we want to play," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
So how do they do that against Nashville in Game 2 at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports)?
It's a fair question considering the Predators pressure and suffocate you if you try to skate the puck through the neutral zone and they have a goalie who is among the best in the League at playing the puck when a team decides to try to dump it in and forecheck.
The Penguins found all of that out in Game 1, when they struggled to combine a clean exit out of their defensive zone with a clean entry into the offensive zone with possession.
Video: Reaction to Stanley Cup Final Game 1
"At the end of the day it boils down to execution and taking what the game gives you," Sullivan said. "We're not always going to have clean exits and entries, but when we do we have to take advantage of it."
To do that, Pittsburgh's defensemen have to play quicker.
"We didn't use our speed," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "Our 'D', we weren't moving it up quick enough or joining the attack."
Defenseman Ron Hainsey explained why that hurt the Penguins.
"We know if we can get the puck to our forwards as quick as possible with some speed early in a shift, that's when we're going to have success," he said. "[When] we're not doing it early in shifts when they have fresh legs, we just don't create much. That's the biggest key."
In addition to making sure the defensemen move the puck up the ice quicker in Game 2, the Penguins have to have better puck placement when they dump it in and try to play a pursuit game. Rinne is too good at handling the puck to give him easy opportunities to play it.
"The biggest thing when you're playing is it's such a small margin for error," Crosby said. "I mean, you're talking about a matter of five or six feet of getting it out of that trapezoid or in there. It's little details."
They saw what can happen when they execute them properly. The game-winning goal is the perfect example.
Schultz got the puck up the ice quickly to center Matt Cullen. Guentzel came down the middle with speed. Cullen chipped the puck to him. Guentzel entered the zone quickly and with possession, forcing Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis to back off. He beat Rinne with a glove-high shot from the right circle.
"One of the strengths of this team is the quick-strike ability," Sullivan said. "We can be opportunistic in high quality chances because we have some people that can finish.
"I know we're capable of playing a more consistent 60-minute game."
He thought that way after Game 1 against the Senators too. The Penguins responded by playing one of their most complete games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 2, allowing 23 shots on goal in a 1-0 win.
"We've had some games throughout the course of these playoffs that we haven't liked, that we said, 'Hey, we know we're a better team,'" Sullivan said. "This is a similar circumstance. We're certainly pleased with the result we got. We know we're a better team than the way we played. We just have to make sure we respond."