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The Inside Scoop: Pens Practice in San Jose

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens practiced at SAP Center on Sunday afternoon before they play Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. Kris Letang and Olli Maatta were the only players absent, and head coach Mike Sullivan said the defensemen were given maintenance days. Here’s what came out of the locker room…

During the first period of the Pens’ 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3 on Saturday night, Chris Kunitz took a shot that rimmed all the way around the boards and was going into Pittsburgh’s end before it hit a pile of snow at center ice and just stopped.

“I was going back to go get it behind our goal, and all of a sudden it just stops at the red line and I’m like ‘whoa!’ Had to throw the brakes on quick,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “(Justin Schultz) went and made a great play with it, but those are the kinds of plays that there’s a lot of unpredictability.”

And that unpredictability gets even worse when the ice conditions are like they were. The Pens acknowledged the puck was bouncing a lot throughout the game, which is to be expected when teams are playing hockey in June. And in order to adjust, Sullivan said the Pens need to simplify their game.

But how do they simplify their game without getting away from it? After all, the Pens have gotten this far by playing an aggressive speed game. For Sullivan and his players, it’s primarily about not looking for that extra pass.

“We like to maybe be a little bit more creative and make plays,” Cole explained. “Trying to cut back and make a drop pass and do these things with a bouncing puck, with a rolling puck. When the pucks aren’t flat, it’s a lot harder to make those creative plays.

“Knowing the ice is not going to be good and knowing that pucks are going to be rolling a lot of times, (we need) to be more of a direct team. To put pucks deep and not necessarily all the way deep, just behind their D and then go skate onto them.”

That’s particularly important in the last 10 minutes of a period.

“For the first 5-10 minutes the ice usually holds up pretty well,” he said. “Towards the end of the periods it gets pretty bad and that’s certainly something that comes with the territory playing this late into the summer. But we need to be aware of the situations and certainly make good plays when the pucks aren’t on.”

--Michelle Crechiolo

There haven’t been a lot of power plays given to either team through the first three games of the series. Last night, the Pens only had one opportunity – awarded in the first three minutes of the game. They weren’t given another for the next 69:20.

“The refs let us play,” forward Evgeni Malkin said. “It’s hockey. Five-on-five is good for both teams. The penalties are even, but I like it.”

What the Pens didn’t like was their performance on that one chance they did get, which put them at 0-for-6 in the series.

“Our last one was not good at all,” winger Patric Hornqvist said.

Their biggest challenge was entering the zone. Sullivan felt the players struggled with clean entries and it limited their zone time.

“For me, that's the most important part, from my experience of coaching our guys,” he said. “When they have established zone time, they usually make plays, they find the plays that are there, they create scoring opportunities. Last night that wasn't the case. We didn't have sufficient zone time to give the power play a chance.”

When they are in the offensive zone, Hornqvist feels the Pens need to get back to the basics – move the puck quick and take what the Sharks give them.

“They do a really good job off of the draws not letting us into our positions,” he explained.
“Sometimes you have to play a 5-on-5 mentality for the first 10, 15 seconds to get puck possession and get into spots. Sometimes you might not be in your spot. Take it to the net and try to create that 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 somewhere on the ice.”

Apart from the X’s and O’s, Malkin felt the Pens just weren’t hungry enough.

“We need all five guys aggressive because last night we played casual,” Malkin said. “We  played soft. We didn’t shoot the puck. We had zero shots on the power play. We need aggressiveness from all five guys.”

--Michelle Crechiolo

Pens goalie Matt Murray is 4-0 in this postseason after losing a game. He also has a 1.94 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in those contests.
So you can expect him to be at his best in Game 4 against the Sharks. However, don’t call it a “bounce-back game” for the 22-year-old netminder.
“I wouldn’t really call it a bounce-back game to be honest,” Murray said. “One bad goal doesn’t make it a bad game. I thought I was really good all game. I made a lot of big saves. They outchanced us. I went back and looked at the chances after the game. I thought I was pretty good all game.”
Murray made several huge saves throughout the game, especially in the overtime session to give the Pens a chance to win the contest.
However, Joonis Donskoi scored one a rolling puck after carrying from behind the cage. But Murray wasn’t spending too much energy wondering what he could have done differently.
“There is always stuff you could have done differently,” he said. “I watched the replay. I think if I’m a little more upright then it hits me in the shoulder. He also got lucky with a rolling puck. I don’t really think about it too much.”
Murray admitted that the goal he allowed to Joel Ward in the third period that tied the game was one he wished he would have stopped. But he isn’t going to let one goal define his game, or his confidence.
“I’m not really focused on results. I’m focused on the process and how I feel out there,” Murray said. “I felt really good this entire time. Last game was no different. I felt really good. One not great goal goes in, but that doesn’t make it a bad game. That doesn’t really affect my confidence by any means.”

--Sam Kasan

Sullivan, on Malkin being one of the few guys in the league who is capable of changing games on his own and how buying into the team concept can help get him going: “He’s such a talented player. He has the ability to be a difference maker on any given shift.  We certainly don't want to discourage him from that. I think one of the things we've always impressed upon our group is we are a coaching staff that doesn't believe in taking the sticks out of their hands.  We want our players to make plays. We want them to act on their instincts.  We also want them to have calculated risk in mind. When we always use the phrase 'we want to play the game the right way,' a lot of it starts with the decisions we make with the puck, with an understanding of situational play. Geno is no different. He is buying into our team concept here. He's been a big part of this playoff success. But certainly I know that there's another level that he has to help us win. We're trying to encourage him to find that balance in his game of making those plays when the opportunities present themselves, and when they're not, to make the simple play.”

Malkin, on not getting his first shot until the third period of Game 3 and if he is feeling good: “I feel great. I mean, we’re playing against good defensemen and they play so close and so tight it’s tough to shoot sometimes. But I agree, my first shot was in the middle of the third period. I need to shoot more for sure. I need to find a way to shoot.”

Crosby, on what they take from Game 3 as they get ready for Game 4: “Pretty much what we felt like right after the game. We did some good things; we still need to do a better job of just executing in different areas. But we had our chances. They did well. They came pretty hard pinching their D, so just being aware of them playing aggressive and making sure that we make some plays by them.”

Bonino, on blocking shots: “I think I’m always top of the forwards in the league every year in blocked shots. It’s something I pride myself on. I like to block shots. It’s nothing new in the playoffs but maybe it’s a little more magnified. It’s easier when the wingers are in the layer and the D have to get it off quick with a wrister or a snapper that makes the block a lot easier for me in the second layer. But when the time comes to block, you’ve just got to do it. I think everyone on this team has bought into that and that’s why we’re two games away.”

Hagelin, on if the ice conditions affect his speed: “No, I don’t think so. I felt pretty good out there yesterday. Had some chances and it’s one of those games where it’s in the Stanley Cup Final, so it’s going to be tight out there, it doesn’t matter who you’re out there against or how the ice is. It’s the small details that decides (games). You look at all the goals, everything happens in front of the net. Tips and breakdowns.”

Lovejoy, on how they adjust their game when the puck is bouncing: “It completely depends on the situation. Where you are on the ice, who’s coming at you, how much time and space you have. You have to decide the risk-reward of when you want to play pucks versus when you want to back out and live to fight another day. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being a defenseman.”
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