The Pittsburgh Penguins are losing the Stanley Cup Final. The games are tied 2-2, but no one who understands Nashville has won the play for most of the four games, or that Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne lost a pair of games but has regained form, would call the series a tie. Under current dynamics and situation, this is the Nashville Predators series to win or lose. They’ve been the better team throughout. However, this is how the Penguins survive the next three games and again drink from the Stanley Cup.
Don’t Skate with Nashville
Imitate Nashville from the Western Conference Final: Trap. 1-2-2 (Preds use a 1-3-1, but the Pens have a 1-2-2 in their arsenal). Trap the Predators at least until their momentum fades. Skating with Nashville isn’t working. It won’t work any longer.
The Penguins were puck possession darlings a season ago. Their speed allowed them to play aggressively all over the ice. Opposing defensemen had no quarter. Opposing forwards could smell the Penguins breath. The aggressiveness created turnovers, puck possession and scoring chances.
Seem familiar? The Predators are currently doing it to the Penguins.
Perhaps it’s a battle of wills, or as my grandfather may say, the Penguins are being stubborn. It is the Penguins who are the faster, better team right? So they must stick to their guns. Right?
Wrong. Way wrong. Not only are the Penguins not the faster team, with Nashville’s defense it’s debatable if the Penguins are the better team. In fact, after four games there is no evidence the Penguins are superior.
It is time for the Penguins to abandon ship. Forget what they want to be and truly understand what they are: A slower, counter-attacking team with great skill and heart. To classify the Penguins as anything more would be fandom or foolish.
Or worse, stubborn.
Nashville survived Anaheim in the WCF despite being beaten from pillar to post by dropping into a 1-3-1, and only forechecking when the situation allowed. With great defense and goaltending, Nashville hung on to win in six games.
The Penguins should take note.
The Penguins provided a preview in the third period. Counter attacking with an aggressive transition game.
Midway through the first period, the Predators began to crash the Penguins zone. With clean zone entries, the Predators took the puck deep, as they collapsed the offensive zone with four or even five players, it overwhelmed the Penguins.
The Predators went all-in. It cost them as Sidney Crosby scored a break-away goal, but the Penguins were not able to capitalize as the teams traded chances. The Penguins had chances, but the Predators had chances and pressure.
Chances AND pressure are better.
If the Penguins are to thwart the Predators, they’ll have to be more aggressive defending their zone. Backing off and backing in won’t work. Ian Cole explained a little more about it to a couple reporters, including Dan Kingerski and Matt Gajtka. As Matt posts the video, we’ll link to it here, and update.
With more aggressive defense in their own zone, the Penguins will be able to start their transition game, as they did in spurts but more consistently in third period.
Mostly playing five D may be the way to go. If Chicago can win with four, the Penguins should be able to survive with five. In fact, as injuries robbed the Penguins of defensemen in the Washington series, the dissolution of Dumoulin-Hainsey was a large positive.
Ron Hainsey is a good defenseman. Brian Dumoulin is a good defenseman. Dumoulin-Hainsey is a bad defensive pairing. First the Blue Jackets, then the Capitals and now the Predators are too often pinning them in their own zone. Dumoulin’s cringe worthy first period turnover gave Filip Forsberg a free and clear shot from the slot.
Ron Hainsey should dress, but ice time be limited. Or, whichever stay-home defender is not showing enough hop can be the filler (Maatta or Dumoulin).
Neither Dumoulin or Hainsey has much of a shot or offensive game. Head coach Mike Sullivan has expressed satisfaction with his pairings, but a puck mover beside either one could be a big help.
Chad Ruhwedel would likely be over-run in this series. Five d-men is the ticket.
Scoring: Crosby and ?
At least for a few moments, Kessel barged into the Predators zone, chased the puck with aggression and created a scoring chance. Kessel did not score in Game 4, had seven shot attempts and two on net. He missed badly on a few of the attempts.
The Penguins lack of an HBK line equivalent continues to haunt them. Scott Wilson was scratched for Josh Archibald. Conor Sheary continued his stay in the dog house with fourth line minutes. Carl Hagelin was elevated to the Malkin line and appeared to have a strong game, but did not generate offense.
Crosby was marvelous in Game 4. A pair of breakaways, one successful, and he was aggressive trying to shoot the puck. As Crosby pushed, the ice slightly opened for his linemates. Jake Guentzel had a few great chances, including a wide open net but Pekka Rinne may have provided the moment of the series with a diving save.
So with the Stanley Cup in the balance, someone must stand with Crosby on the scoring sheet.
It’s now a best of three. Nashville has all of the momentum, confidence, and legs. It’s up to the Penguins to take it away via trap, secondary scoring help and a shortened bench, on the blue-line.
It can be done.