Penguins Good at Exploiting Predators' Few Mistakes

The Predators have taken to forcing things that aren’t there. Not often, but often enough to give the Penguins a sliver of room to exploit.

The two-games-to-none lead the Penguins will bring to Nashville for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t add up on the stat sheet given the way the Predators have out-shot, out-chanced and for long stretches outplayed the Penguins through Games 1 and 2.

But when you break it down frame by frame and zoom in the way they do to determine whether an off-side call has been missed and a goal should be disallowed, the Penguins’ success becomes much less stunning.

The most obvious asterisk attached to Nashville’s perceived superiority even in defeat has been the play of goaltender Pekka Rinne.

He’s been better at handling the puck than he has been stopping it.

By Stanley Cup Final standards, he’s been awful.

That’s a tough one to work around.

But just as impactful has been the way the Penguins have handled getting handled.

They haven’t panicked.

As head coach Mike Sullivan is fond of saying, they’ve kept their eye on the right ball.

For these Penguins in this series and in this postseason, that’s first and foremost meant refusing to succumb to the frustration of not scoring more goals more often, and avoiding the temptation to push the envelope toward that end and in the process make themselves vulnerable.

Patience has become as much a part of their DNA as their ability to strike when a scoring chance, or two, or three at long last materialize.

“It’s about making sure that if we don’t get anything, we try to limit the opportunities of our opponent to the best of our ability,” Sullivan explained after the Pens’ combustible, 4-1 victory in Game 2. “We’re going to go through stretches where we might get a handful of shifts in a row where we don’t get an opportunity.

“It’s just about making sure we continue to play the game the right way. Let’s defend when the opportunity is called upon to defend. When we have the puck, we have to make sure we take what the game gives us and we don’t turn into a high-risk team where we’re turning pucks over because we’re trying to force things that aren’t necessarily there.”

Sullivan has been preaching as much ever since he got here, often enough and well enough that even Evgeni Malkin gets it by now.

“They play so much tight in all three zones,” Malkin said of the Predators. “Not so many chances to score.

“But if you have chance, try.”

From Sullivan’s lips to Malkin’s ears.

And nothing’s been lost in translation.

The Predators, conversely, have taken to forcing things that aren’t there in both games.

Not often, but often enough to give the Penguins a sliver of room to exploit.

That explains, to a large extent, how the Penguins were able to survive going 37 minutes without a shot on goal in Game 1, and how they were able to explode for three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period of Game 2, an outburst that broke open a 1-1 tie the Penguins had been relatively fortunate to achieve through the first 40 minutes.

“Five-and-a-half periods (out of six) we really liked things we did,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette maintained of Games 1 and 2.

The Predators’ problem has been that when they weren’t doing things they liked, they were turning the puck over or getting out of position, or Rinne was allowing goals that can only be characterized as baby-food soft.

The change of venue isn’t going to change all of that just because Eric Church or even Rayna Jaymes sings the Star-Spangled Banner.

And the question isn’t whether the Penguins can continue to play this way and expect to keep winning games.

The question, after further review, is why wouldn’t they?
 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section