PITTSBURGH — Go ahead. Try to figure out the Pittsburgh Penguins. The same team which gifted the worst team in the Metro Division a 3-0 lead on Monday night, grabbed a commanding 3-0 lead against the best team in the league, Wednesday night. Sure, that makes sense, right?
The Penguins attacked the Tampa Bay Lightning down low and both sides went at each other physically. The Penguins played below the hash marks as their coach has demanded. Tampa Bay added a couple of garbage time goals, but the Penguins cruised to a 4-2 win at PPG Paints Arena.
It was a big game for the Penguins and as this group often does, they responded with an equally big effort.
The Penguins ceded a lot of shots to Tampa Bay, which outshot the Penguins 16-5 in the first period. However, there are several factors which led to the lopsided shot total.
Tampa Bay had a lot of shots, but the Penguins did a reasonably good job keeping Tampa Bay shooters outside the dots or away from Murray–even as Tampa Bay followed through to disrupt Murray.
And when Tampa Bay did come at Murray, the Penguins physically responded. So, the game will not look great on paper, but in reality, the Penguins did what they needed to do to win. Tampa Bay is a pretty good team, don’t forget.
“The shot clock can sometimes be deceiving,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray. “It didn’t feel like they were outplaying us, really. They were in our end most of the period, but not getting too much.”
Murray was exactly right.
The Penguins were committed to playing a gritty game below the hashes. That means more chipping and chasing, fewer rushes and fewer shots. The Penguins were successful in the early going getting the puck deep, attacking the Tampa Bay defense and creating pressure. Sidney Crosby’s goal eight minutes into the first period was a prime example.
Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola activated to keep the puck in the zone. Jake Guentzel created a turnover behind the net, and Dominik Simon crashed low to complete the turnover. Simon also made a slick pass across the goal mouth to Crosby (22) for the easy stuff-in.
The Penguins visible commitment to low play also created space. Their first two goals were the result of good speed through the neutral zone and controlled zone entries.
Also a tactical note–the Penguins used the Tampa Bay defensive pursuit in the neutral zone against Tampa Bay with cross-ice passes which were left open. The change in attack created space and speed for the Penguins zone entries. When the zone entry wasn’t available, the Penguins made the simple play and moved the puck forward to open ice and battled for it.
That led to some chippiness throughout the game. Good. Finally. All of the above is the winning formula.