A few Stanley Cup contenders lost their Game 1s. From Vegas Golden Knights, the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the wrong side of the scoreboard in Game 1 despite being favored to win. Losing Game 1 generally gives the victory big odds to win the series, but the situation can also change by Game 3.
But things must change.
And for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a few things must change, but there are also a few things to build upon for Game 2.
3 Things Must Change, 3 Things to Build On
3. Build On: Early Effort. The Penguins first 40 minutes were as good as they could get against a stingy New York Islanders team. They exploited New York’s forecheck and their neutral zone traffic for scoring chances. The Penguins had 71% of the scoring chances over the first two periods and 75% of the high-danger chances.
Must Change: Secondary Production. The Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel provided most of those chances. The Penguins’ top-line outchanced their rest of the team, combined. Actually, the Penguin’s top line had nearly as many scoring chances as every line from both teams combined (17-20).
Stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Penguins second (Jeff Carter) and third line (Frederick Gaudreau) have to chip in more puck possession. Carter’s line especially has to be stronger throughout the game. Carter’s line got stronger in the third period, but when the Penguins had the advantage, the line was not impactful and was on the ice for a pair of goals against.
If the Penguins got a third goal when they had momentum, they could have weathered the Islanders’ pushback differently. Or broken New York entirely.
“I don’t think there was any moment where the game turned. I think there were surges on both sides. There was momentum swings and that’s playoff hockey,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “You’ve got to try to simplify the game and get back on your toes when you’re on your heels and the other team surges. You’ve got to try to ride the surge…In the second period–we had a handful of shifts there in the offensive zone where we were good.”
The game, perhaps the series, was there for the taking.
2. Build On: The Core. Kris Letang was brilliant. Sidney Crosby was fantastic. See above. The Pittsburgh Penguins core players were, in fact, great in Game 1. They were the Penguins best two players. Empirically, and visually, Letang nullified several Grade A chances and created a few for the Penguins.
Must Change: Transition. New York busted the Penguins line changes.
“They caught us in transition a couple of times just from pucks that we didn’t get in and (we) kind of got stuck on the ice,” Cody Ceci said.
That wasn’t an accident or something the Penguins did wrong, necessarily. New York’s third period adjustment was not only tighter gaps but to attack the Penguins dump-ins. We jumped into more detail in the Report Card. By attacking the Penguins attempts to chip it forward, New York blocked, deflected, and stuffed more than a few attempts which created a transition opportunity.
Brock Nelson’s go-ahead goal was a prime example.
A Penguins three-on-two became a New York goal because New York played a tight gap and attacked the entry.
1. Tristan Jarry
Build upon and Must Change.
Jarry made 37 saves, including a bevy of good saves on the doorstep. But those four goals. Each was a great shot, well placed, and not an easy save. But each was stoppable with better positioning or tighter mechanics.
Jarry’s rebound control was spotty, too.
“I thought Tristan made some big saves throughout the course of the game to keep the game where it was,” Sullivan said. “There were some good saves on both ends of the rink. You know, I just think we have to be better as a group.”
Build on: The great saves and get past the first game nerves.
Must change: He’s got to be better. If he doesn’t win the goaltending battle, Jarry must at least be even. If Jarry doesn’t elevate, the Penguins are in trouble. Playoffs are about goaltending and defense.