Game 4 ahead, Pittsburgh holding a 2-1 series leads as Nashville looks for back-to-back wins on home ice.
A few thoughts on what Pittsburgh needs to do at this point in the series.
Hate to state the obvious, but if the Penguins are going to win the series, they’re going to need to shoot the puck. The good news? Pittsburgh has gotten better since Game 1’s dismal performance (and surprising win). The bad news? The team’s elite scorers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were each held without a shot in Game 3.
One of the things I liked about Pittsburgh’s first two games was the fact that Mike Sullivan had Jake Guentzel on a different line from Crosby and Malkin. While I appreciate the chemistry of Guentzel and Crosby in particular, Crosby is being so smothered by the Predators defense that he isn’t able to effectively pass and create plays, let alone shoot and score. Make Nashville decide which of Pittsburgh’s dynamic postseason scorer’s gets Josi-Ellis or Ekholm-Subban and who is more fortunate and faces Irwin-Weber. Not a slight to Irwin and Weber, but with a top 4 as good as Nashville has, there has to be an area the Penguins attack and I don’t think they’ve done a good enough job creating offensive chances, let alone focus on a matchup with a defensive pairing they have a better chance of controlling.
Sullivan has been preaching patience to the Penguins, and he mentioned prior to Game 4 that one of the strength’s of his team is their ability to attack in the tiniest of windows.
“They want to pinch the walls, they want to establish a heavy presence,” said Sullivan. “Our team has the ability to quick strike.”
He’s right. It’s how the Penguins controlled the third period of Game 2 and pulled ahead for the 4-1 win. It’s how Pittsburgh scored in the first three minutes in Game 3. If they can attack against the Predators weakest pairing and in the smallest of windows, I think they’ll generate not only more scoring chances, but more goals as well.
Pittsburgh also needs to get to the net. Nashville crowds the crease of Matt Murray and in Game 3, it finally worked. Pittsburgh has not had any success deflecting pucks, save for a lone shot that hit off a Predators player in Game 1.
It’s not just pucks to the net that the Penguins need, it’s bodies. Even though Crosby is a guy that can move the puck and is so skilled, he’s extremely successful and dangerous to the left of the goalie, right on the edge of the crease. Patric Hornqvist excels there as well. Both on 5-on-5 and power play opportunities, I’d like to see more of Pittsburgh utilizing those players in that location. Even if it means moving Hornqvist to the second power play unit to get two runs of bodies in Pekka Rinne’s line of sight.
Prediction? I’m not one for making these, but people seem to want them. Pittsburgh wins a one-goal game with a late strike from… Phil Kessel.