TORONTO — The Pittsburgh Penguins have scored only four goals against Montreal Canadiens Carey Price in the first two games of the Qualifying Round series. It doesn’t take a hockey insider to see Price is making fantastic saves and making the Penguins work even harder for goals.
The Penguins high volume of missed shots (28) in Game One outpaced the number of blocked shots (27).
When a talented team like the Penguins has difficulty lighting the lamp, things can get tense. Players begin to think, and a certain paralysis can set in. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said being too cute isn’t part of the conversation. Instead, it’s about making life difficult for the goalie.
“What we talk about is being hard on our opponent’s goalies. That’s a discussion we have no matter who we play against,” Sullivan said. “It’s an important aspect of winning.”
The Penguins blitzed Price with 41 shots in Game 1, then similarly peppered him with 38 shots in Game 2. The Penguins didn’t score their second goal of the game until five minutes were remaining. The third goal of the 3-1 win was an empty netter.
However, there was considerably more traffic in front of Price, and fewer missed shots (19) in Game 2.
“You’ve got to try to get to the net. You’ve got to try to make it hard for the goalie to find the sightlines (and) you’ve got to limit his mobility in the crease,” Sullivan continued. “Even if he can’t make a positional save, he can’t see it. Sometimes he can’t control the rebound, and that’s the stuff that we talk about.”
In Game 2, Patric Hornqvist only had one shot on goal, but the Penguins’ net-front animal had two more blocked. Especially on the Penguins power play, Hornqvist was ever-present. Though the Penguins third line has not yet performed to standards, and we’ll dissect that topic soon.
Sullivan downplayed the Penguins might look too hard, or try too hard to find slivers of daylight in corners around Price, thus sacrificing good shots.
With 79 shots in two games, it is hard to argue the Penguins have held their fire. But, with Price’s continued brilliance, passing up shots or being too fine is something which has plagued this Pittsburgh Penguins team.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin led all players with seven shots in Game 2 but didn’t have a point.
Sullivan’s words cut more to pushing his players to continue pressure. The net crashing creates loose pucks, which often means maintaining possession. As part of being too cute, sometimes, the Penguins occasionally try pre-set plays, which result in one-off chances.
Instead, Sullivan is urging his players to bring some ugly to their offensive game.
“We’ve got to be willing to go to that area. Willing to get our noses dirty so to speak, and get our noses over pucks when they are in and around the crease,” Sullivan said as a slight smile appeared then vanished. Sullivan was once a grinder and a battler in the NHL with several teams.
“It’ more about the process. Making it harder on our opponents’ goaltenders, regardless of who were are playing against.”
Not only have the Pittsburgh Penguins overwhelmed Montreal with shots in the first two games, but the shot disparity has also been wide. The Penguins limited Montreal to only 27 shots in Game 2. Penguins goalie Matt Murray had a shutout spoiled in the final minutes.
The Penguins dodged a scare with a win in Game 1. The fifth-seeded Penguins are the highest seed in the Qualifying Round but lost the first game to Montreal. When the NHL used five-game series from 1980-1986, teams that won the first game also won 82% of the series, and organizations that won the first two games won 55 of 56 games.
The Penguins have an enormous challenge to beat Carey Price, but it appears the team heeded the coach’s words. Any PHN analysis of Game 3 will begin and perhaps end, with the Penguins’ nose and how dirty it got.