The Pittsburgh Penguins course-corrected from a shaky first few minutes and physically humbled the Nashville Predators who are Western Conference powers and Stanley Cup favorites. Don’t get sucked into the angst and fear spreading through the fan base because the Penguins failed to close out five games since Feb. 23. The Penguins were again tied in the final minutes but this time they got the elusive shootout win, 2-1 over Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena, Thursday night.
Over the past two weeks, the Penguins asserted themselves over the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and Nashville Predators; three outstanding teams.
The late-goal thing is odd but does not figure to last. The Penguins will solve the issue. And yes, Matt Murray was the culprit Thursday night. To beat him up too much would be to erase his otherwise stellar play. It was a bad goal, and Murray knew it.
“I just didn’t squeeze tight enough. It’s one you’ve got to have for sure,” Murray said.
Sullivan had a more fitting take on the overall state of the Penguins game.
“I think our team has played extremely well over the last couple of weeks and probably deserved more points than we’ve gotten,” Mike Sullivan said. “We liked so much of our game and that’s what we kept telling them on the bench, ‘Just keep playing. Just keep playing the game.’ Fortunately, we win the shootout. The law of averages was with us.”
The law of averages was definitely with the Penguins, though a couple of the gamblers in the Penguins room my let Sullivan know the law doesn’t actually exist.
Tactically, the Penguins didn’t let up on Nashville. The Penguins forecheck was unusually aggressive. The second body (F2) was coming deeper into the zone, and F3 was made an appearance, especially on the Nick Bjugstad line which looked like a stampede coming at Nashville.
The Penguins did everything they wanted to do. They played beneath the dots with the puck. They harassed Nashville for 200 feet. They pushed the play to the Nashville net and they maintained offensive zone possession.
The Penguins outchanced Nashville 24-12. Check out this domination: The Nick Bjugstad line with Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Simon had a 90 percent scoring chance ratio and an 82 percent Corsi ratio. It wasn’t long before Nashville tried to use their top players to shut the Penguins third line down. It still didn’t work.
The Penguins initially used a chip-and-chase game to set up their forecheck. Their speed through the neutral zone was on point as they got to loose pucks or otherwise had a third stick to disrupt the Nashville breakouts. After the Penguins titled the ice, the game opened up for them, and they had far more controlled zone entries as the game got longer.
Defensively, the Pittsburgh Penguins did a much better job of picking up late trailers and the fourth stick. The Penguins held their ground in the high zone with clogged lanes and limited chances. Of course, the Penguins defensemen were responsible for the low area and did a good job. Holding a team to only 28 shots in regulation, despite having a one-goal lead speaks volumes.