The Pittsburgh Penguins were pretty happy with their first period Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
With how much they possessed the puck during those 20 minutes, and how they ran up a 22-7 edge in shots then.
“I thought it was a terrific first period,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought we had the puck an awful lot. I thought it was one of our better periods.”
Well, there was at least one thing for which they didn’t particularly care: Ottawa scored the only two goals before the first intermission, en route to what became a 5-2 Senators victory.
Turns out that shots that end up in goal matter a whole lot more than shots on goal.
“They got good looks,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “And scored on them.”
Sullivan acknowledged that the Senators were “very opportunistic,” and seemed satisfied with most of what he witnessed during the opening period.
“It was one of those periods where we did all the right things and we come out of the period down, 2-0,” Sullivan said. “The amount of chances that we generated, the amount of zone time that we had … we had the puck most of the period, so from a process standpoint, I thought the first period was real encouraging.”
Count Kris Letang among those who believe the Penguins started the game like a team committed to building on the momentum created by their 4-0 victory against Colorado two nights earlier.
“We came out hard, on our toes,” Letang said. “We dominated the play.”
Trouble is, the Penguins probably peaked during those initial 20 minutes. Certainly, by the time the third period arrived, they did not seem to be posing a serious threat to the Senators.
“It’s just a question of keeping the same pace for 60 minutes,” Letang said. “Even if it doesn’t reward you in the first 20 (minutes) or the first 40.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play failed to manufacture a goal on either of its chances, the seventh time in eight games it was unable to score.
It has converted just two of 20 chances, a success rate of 10 percent that is the third-lowest in the NHL.
And pretty much unthinkable for a group whose No. 1 unit ranks among the league’s most talented.
“We’ve got to try to keep our swagger,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve got to simplify the game. When you look at the underlying numbers, we’re one of the top groups in the league, if you believe advanced analytics. They’re generating opportunities. The puck hasn’t gone in the net for them. That’s an important aspect of it, without a doubt.
“We’ve got to shoot the puck more. We’ve got to make it hard at the net-front. I think that if we do that, pucks will go in the net. But we just have to stay with it. They’re creating opportunities. If they weren’t, that would be a different conversation. But they are. All of the numbers that we track suggest that.”
Senators goalie Joonas Korpisalo entered the game with a career record of 1-5-1 against the Penguins, and his goals-against average (3.16) and save percentage (.904) against them weren’t terribly impressive, either.
But Korpisalo was outstanding Saturday, turning aside 40 of 42 shots.
He did not, however, catch the Penguins off-guard, perhaps because of his work during an exhibition game against them in Halifax, Nova Scotia Oct. 6.
“I don’t think he surprised us,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “We saw him in preseason, and he had a good game against us.”
Although the Senators got just 26 shots on Penguins goalies Tristan Jarry and Magnus Hellberg, whatever they lacked in quantity was more than offset by the quality of the chances they were given.
“A lot of the looks, we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Pettersson said. “Frustrated. Not keeping our discipline or our structure. Giving up too many good looks. You saw on those goals tonight, a lot of them were Grade-A chances.”
Jake Guentzel ended a four-game goal-scoring drought when he beat Korpisalo at 19:26 for his second of the season.
He praised Korpisalo — “He played well,” Guentzel said. “I thought we had a lot of chances.” — and suggested the Pittsburgh Penguins’ inability to take advantage of more of their opportunities might have played a part is some of the defensive lapses that the Senators were able to exploit.
“I thought we had a lot of chances, controlled a lot of the play,” Guentzel said. “But sometimes when that happens, you kind of get a little impatient and get on the wrong side of pucks sometimes. They’re pretty offensive, so that capitalized on their chances.”