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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Snap Shots: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 OT (Game 1)

Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Qualifying Round.
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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Qualifying Round.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

This felt like a game that the Penguins should have won. After digging themselves out of a 2-0 hole midway through the second period, they had plenty of chances to take a lead and go from there, but weren’t able to capitalize. It came down to missed opportunities, including a fast start where they didn’t score; not scoring on six of seven power plays, including 1:32 minutes of a 5-on-3 and one in overtime; and a missed penalty shot. 

We’ll start with the start. The Penguins came out flying and outshot the Canadiens 9-1 in the opening 10 minutes of play, but they weren’t able to get one past Carey Price. Instead, the Canadiens showed some quick-strike capability and built a 2-0 lead early in the second. After that, to their credit, the Penguins did battle back with a couple of dirty goals (more on that below) to even the score. 

“We just stayed with it,” Sullivan said. “We really liked the way we were playing. We felt like we had possession time, we were controlling territory, we generated a fair amount of scoring chances. The puck just didn’t go in the net for us. We could’ve been up a couple goals in the first period. Didn’t happen that way. But that’s hockey.”

But from there, they weren’t able to capitalize on any of their chances, including the penalty shot to Conor Sheary with 3:03 remaining in regulation. And while that’s frustrating, the Penguins are choosing to look at the positives. 

“Luckily, it’s not a single-elimination tournament that we’re going through here,” Bryan Rust said. “Obviously you never like to lose Game 1 and there’s always lessons to be learned. But at the end of the day, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“I think we just got to heed the lessons. We did some really good things. Our start was phenomenal. We had some really good chances. I think over the course of the game we did some really good things. There’s always areas to clean up. But we’re going to look at those things and come out even better.”

POWER PLAY STRUGGLES

One of the things they’re going to look at is the power play, which went just 1-for-7 on the evening. What was especially frustrating is that the majority of those opportunities came after Rust tied the game on Pittsburgh’s second power play of the game. 

“We understand that the power play has to be better,” Sullivan said. “We’re working through this process here. It had an opportunity to be the difference tonight. It wasn’t. We’ll go back to work tomorrow.”

They had a rollercoaster of a sequence that led to Rust’s goal. The Penguins gave up one shorthanded odd-man rush, where Matt Murray made a tremendous save to stop it. Right after that, the Penguins gave up another shorthanded odd-man rush. That time, Kris Letang made a tremendous sliding block to break up the 2-on-1.

At that point, the Penguins regrouped and the second power-play unit took the ice. As Sullivan likes to say, nothing breaks down coverage better than a shot on goal. Jared McCann put the puck on net with a snapshot from the bottom of the circle. Patric Hornqvist was there just doing what he does – creating chaos at the net-front – which opened the door for Rust to bury the rebound. But what really opened the door for that play were the two big defensive plays by Murray and Letang.

But from there, it was more lows than highs. Especially when the Penguins were given 1:32 minutes on the 5-on-3 with the score tied 2-2. Pittsburgh went with Letang, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Rust, and while they had the zone the entire time (save for one clear by Montreal), they didn’t create as much as they should have.  

“We got to execute better,” Sullivan said when asked what went wrong in that particular instance. “We’ve got to try to get some shots. The one area where I think we could have improved throughout the course of our whole overall game, the power play included, is just more of a net presence – making it hard on Price to see the puck. I thought we had opportunities to get to the net and take away his sightlines, and we didn’t do as good of a job at that tonight.”

GETTING DIRTY  

I couldn’t agree more. Both of Pittsburgh’s goals were dirty, and those are the kinds of goals they are going to need against a goalie of Price’s caliber.

Price is widely considered to be the best goalie in the league, and he showed why as he withstood Pittsburgh’s early barrage, keeping his team in the game. But while the shot total was lopsided, sometimes it was more about quantity than quality as the Penguins weren’t always crashing Price’s crease and making him uncomfortable.

Once they started doing that, the goals started to come, beginning with Crosby’s tally in the second period. He simply banked a bad-angle shot off Price’s skate from the goal line and in as the netminder was sliding into position. But the Penguins got away from that for long stretches, and while there’s certainly less room to work with in the playoffs, the Penguins need to do a better job of battling to get in the dirty areas. Especially if the ice conditions continue to be chippy.

“Areas where we can make it harder on Montreal is if we get to the net more consistently and take the goalie’s sightlines away,” Sullivan said. “Make it harder on him to find the puck and maybe create some rebound opportunities. We had our moments where we were at the net, but we think we can get better at that.”

MARINO APPRECIATION TWEET

I thought John Marino was the Penguins’ best defenseman tonight. Although this marked his NHL playoff debut, you never would have guessed it. It’s one of those things when you watch Marino, you just know he’s going to make the right play, whether he’s defending or working in the offensive zone.

As usual, he did a terrific job of keeping his gap, angling forwards away and escaping with the puck out of danger to make good breakouts. But there were also a number of shifts where he did a tremendous job of holding the blue line and allowing the forwards to get a cycle game going. 

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