PITTSBURGH – It was a mess, only a part of the whole it should have been. Barely crossing the blue line. Gutty, but ultimately rancid.
But enough about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense during 37 shot-less minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1, let’s talk about that catfish that hit the ice …
Just kidding. Let’s talk about the Penguins’ offense. Because it was rotten fish stinky.
“We weren’t very good. You know … we weren’t very good,” said coach Mike Sullivan, whose team, again, went 37 minutes without a shot on goal on Monday night. In fact, the Penguins set a Stanley Cup Final record by failing to register a shot on goal in the second period.
“You look up, and the whole second period you don’t get a shot. Guys were yelling ‘shoooooot!’” said center Nick Bonino.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was hoping a shot attempt nicked goalie Pekka Rinne, or perhaps that Pittsburgh could get some home ice advantage. “Maybe the [official scorer] up there can give us at least one,” he said.
And yet, after that record drought, after a 3-0 lead was squandered at home, after the Predators came roaring back and controlled play, the Penguins won the damn game, 5-3, to take a 1-0 series lead.
“Yeah, it’s not textbook,” said Crosby. “We’ve got some things to improve on.”
Everyone had a theory about those 37 minutes without a shot.
Defenseman Ron Hainsey felt the Penguins were too content after establishing a 3-0 lead following the first period, a stretch so dominating that a Predators fan in the crowd randomly discharged their catfish over the glass in the second period, perhaps fearing that they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity.
Sullivan agreed that the Penguins didn’t leave the dressing room with the requisite fire.
“We had a discussion in between periods about staying on our toes, playing the game the right way, making sure that we don’t try to sit on the lead or defend the lead, that we try to go out and get the next goal,” he said. “This team usually, for the most part, is pretty good at making sure that we’re continuing to play the game the right way. Tonight wasn’t the case. We just weren’t very good.”
Then there’s the feeling out process that happens in a Game 1. The Penguins, to a man, were impressed with the Predators’ depth and aggressive defense. “They work really hard. Every line plays pretty similar. Their ‘D’ joins the rush in almost every situation. It forces us to backtrack and take guys,” said Crosby.
The Predators were also short-circuiting the Penguins’ forecheck, thanks in part to the puck-handling skills of their goalie Pekka Rinne.
“They make you dump the puck poorly, and then Rinne plays it really well,” said Bonino.
Whatever the diagnosis, two facts remain. The first is that rookie Jake Guentzel’s goal at 16:43 of the third period – on the Penguins’ first shot on goal since their last goal in the first period – beat Rinne and led to the 5-3 victory.
“We were just kind of throwing pucks in the net there. Fortunate to go in,” said Guentzel.
“It think you’re just hoping to get a shot on net and see what happens. But that might have been the best look we had in 37 minutes,” said Crosby.
The second fact is that the Penguins showed, once again, that they can pull a victory out of the most dead-fish of performances.
There have been times during this postseason run for the defending Stanley Cup champions when they’ve been thoroughly out-possessed and outplayed by an opponent. The Penguins sit back and wait for someone to counterpunch, wait for one of their clutch skill players to find a way to break through.
Wait for the seemingly inevitable victory, like the one in Game 1.
“We found a way. So the real challenge is how we bounce back and improve,” said Crosby.
Does it matter?
This team went 37 minutes without a shot, and blew a three-goal lead, and is still up 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.
We can talk all night about sustainability and playing with fire and being lucky to win with 12 shots on goal and all of it, but the fact remains: You won the damn game, Sidney Crosby. Again.
“You still have to get better. I don’t know if we’re saying the same thing if Jake doesn’t get that goal, about [us] being a championship team if we give up a three-goal lead [and lose], right?” he said.
And that, in the end, is why they’re the defending champions, with a chance to repeat: Victory is the expectation, but not validation.
“In some ways, are we certainly pleased with the result? Yes,” said Sullivan. “But also, I think we trust the leadership of the group that we have, that they get it. They understand. They know we weren’t at our best.”
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