Penguins struggle for goals, cling to process after Nashville humbling

 

NASHVILLE – As captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby sets the tone. And the tone after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final was defiantly confident, despite the Penguins getting absolutely rolled in consecutive games by the Nashville Predators, who have turned this into a best-of-three series.

“It’s the most consistent [effort] as far as generating chances” said Crosby, and “you gotta play your game to give yourself a chance” said Crosby, and “we found a different level there tonight, and didn’t get the result we wanted” said Crosby, and “we gotta built off this one.”

The other pillar of steady emotional support for the Penguins is their coach, Mike Sullivan, who sounded a similar tone after their 4-1 loss to the Predators in Game 4.

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“We generated the most chances and the highest quality chances” said Sullivan, and “we believe we got guys that can score goals and can finish,” said Sullivan, and “we’ll just continue to try to focus on the process.”

Yes, this is all true. Gold stars and pats on the head for all involved.

But in two games in Nashville, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored two goals. They went scoreless on five power plays, and are now 1-for-15 in the series.

Evgeni Malkin was held without a point by the dynamic defensive pairing of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, and was held without a shot in Game 3. Phil Kessel didn’t have a point in Nashville, either.

They trust the process and believe in the process and process the process, but forward Bryan Rust probably said it best after Game 4.

“At this time of year, it’s about results,” he said. “One way or another, you gotta get results.”

And the Penguins stopped getting them after Game 2.

Truth be told, Pittsburgh gave a lot of credence to the theory floated by Subban and some of the Predators after Game 2: That outside of a four-minute flurry in Game 1 and a three-minute burst in Game 2 by Pittsburgh, the Predators have had the better of play.

They have a 55.59-percent Corsi possession advantage overall for the series, and it grows to 58.26 percent when the score is within a goal.

The difference in Game 4 for Nashville was that the Penguins’ flurry was repelled by a rejuvenated Pekka Rinne making the difference in goal, especially in the second period.

“I mean, he was unbelievable,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “It seemed like some of their chances came in flurries. We let a couple people behind us tonight. They seemed to be flying the zone a little bit. They caught us a couple times. It led to Crosby’s goal. It led to a couple other chances, us having to chase down partial breakaways. He made those saves.”

Crosby and Sullivan are, in the end, right: There are some things to build on from Game 4. The power play, a focal point of their practice on Sunday, showed some life. Crosby broke a dozen-game goal drought in the playoffs. Malkin and Kessel generated seven shot attempts each, with Kessel being moved around the lineup by Sullivan in a desperate attempt to get him going.

“We played him with different people. He played with Geno sometimes. We played him with [Matt Cullen] and other people to try to spark him. I thought he had some good opportunities. I think he was looking to shoot the puck more, which I think is important. When he has that shot-first mentality, he can be really dangerous,” said the coach of Kessel, who has one assist in four Cup Final games.

But there are points of concern, too. Like the fact that the Penguins are getting nearly nothing from their defenseman offensively. That the power play still stinks. And that the only player to generate secondary scoring in this series – meaning goals that don’t have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel or Jake Guentzel earning a point on them – is Nick Bonino, who was last seen outside the Penguins locker room on crutches in a walking boot.

Crosby, for one, isn’t concerned with the offense. “No, you know what? You don’t get this far without depth. It’s tight games. It can go either way. Guys are getting their looks. We just have to trust that they’ll start going in,” he said.

One of the things that’s impressed me most about the Penguins in this postseason is that trust. That belief. The way they can be outplayed in about two-thirds of their playoff games and yet still be two wins away from the Stanley Cup. Because they believe in their system and they believe in their stars and they believe that the comportment that carried them to the championship last season can weather any adversity that comes their way.

But in the end, there’s only one belief that matters for the Penguins at this point in the postseason, and it was voiced by their coach after Game 4.

“It’s hard to win when you score one goal,” said Sullivan.

 

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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