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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins need to find success on special teams in Cup Final

Pittsburgh has struggled on power play, allowing too many goals shorthanded to Predators

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- The discrepancy on special teams has put some doubt into the Stanley Cup Final.

The Pittsburgh Penguins lead the best-of-7 series against the Nashville Predators 2-1 with Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The Penguins, though, are trailing the series in power-play results.


[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coverage | Stanley Cup Final blog: Ian Cole ]


The Predators are 4-for-10 on the power play, including 2-for-3 in a 5-1 win in Game 3 on Saturday.

In addition to showing vulnerability on their penalty kill, the Penguins have struggled with their own power play, 1-for-13 in the series.

That power-play struggle is a dramatic reversal of form.

Video: Predators use strong 2nd to down Pens in Game 3, 5-1

Before the start of the Final, Pittsburgh had the best power play (14-for-56, 25 percent) among teams that made it out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And in the regular season, the Penguins produced consistently.

They scored the second-most power-play goals (60), trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had 62. Pittsburgh's power-play percentage was third at 23.1, behind the Buffalo Sabres at 24.5 and the Toronto Maple Leafs at 23.8.

What has changed?

"Just a different kill [we're against]," Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz said after practice at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday. "They come a little harder and we're not used to it. But we should be better than we are. We've had some good looks at times but then get away from it. So it's about sticking with it and doing what we've done all year. We've proven that we can have success."

The Predators have presented different challenges but they have not yet run the Penguins out of confidence.

"They pressure hard, not like [the Ottawa Senators] or any of the other penalty kills we've faced in the playoffs, really," Schultz said. "It's just about finding lanes and moving the puck and we'll get our looks and our chances."

In their practice Sunday, the Penguins moved forward Jake Guentzel, who leads the playoffs with 13 goals, to the first power-play unit with Schultz, and forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

"We practiced some concepts that we've been working on all season," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's not anything that's new to them. But obviously we haven't had the success in this particular series, but we believe that these guys are capable. We're just trying to reinforce some strategies."

One strategy that Sullivan has been pushing since early in the series is taking more shots on the power play.

Video: Mike Johnson adds some insight on the series thus far

His remarks after Pittsburgh went 0-for-7 on the power play in Game 2 ring true.

"I've always been a believer that nothing breaks coverage down better than a shot on goal," Sullivan said. "We can create our offense off of that."

That's the mental wrestling match that's ongoing -- to shoot or to pass.

Crosby addressed that on the off-day Sunday, talking about the difficulties in Game 3, when the Penguins had one shot on goal during three power plays.

"The first [power play] there, we had some good zone time and generated a couple good chances," Crosby said. "They're an aggressive penalty kill so sometimes it's not always going to be perfect when you're waiting for that one chance where maybe they're overaggressive or you make a play past a couple guys and bury one chance.

"Sometimes it's gotta be that way. It's not going to be continuous possession, it's just going to be that one play. We've got to make sure we're patient and we execute until we get it, and then once we do we've got to put it in the back of the net."

Schultz said that one thing that is not wrong with the Penguins power play is too much deference to the heavy shots, like Crosby, Malkin or Kessel.

"We have a lot of talent and we're all trying to work together and we're always talking about it and trying to figure out new ways to have success and find open lanes," Schultz said. "I don't think anyone passes if off, like saying, 'Oh, Sid's going to go out there and do it.' We all have to work together or the power play's not going to work."

The Penguins aren't the only ones looking for open lanes. The Predators have burned them in the Final by finding several on their own power play.

"They've got some guys who are very committed over there, blocking shots, getting in lanes, so for us it's about puck movement, getting pucks through," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "That's almost every power play's thing, to get pucks through. A shot is never a bad idea on the power play. You never know where that rebound is going to go. We've had some puck luck too, a couple of deflections, but that's going to happen in a series and we need to keep the same mindset going forward."

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