What worked for four consecutive periods stopped working for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their legs which carried them swiftly past Nashville, literally and figuratively, on Friday night stopped working after 20 minutes on Saturday night. The Penguins grabbed a dominating 3-0 lead and needed every bit of cushion as they survived Nashville’s comeback in a 6-4 win at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
Eventually, Jake Guentzel squeezed a rebound just across the goal line and Bryan Rust scored his second goal of the game into the empty net.
The tactical adjustments which suffocated Nashville on Friday were null and void by the second period on Saturday. The Penguins were unable to execute and unable to control the puck.
They were under siege.
“It’s always a dangerous lead when you get up three goals that early in the game because there’s so much hockey left,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “As much as a coaching staff you’re trying to preach vigilance, and staying on your toes and trying to work for the next goal, it’s almost like you’re fighting human nature.”
Early, the Penguins exploited the lack of cohesion between the heralded Nashville defensemen and the Nashville forwards. The Penguins were able to control the puck and control their zone entries in the first period.
More specifically, the Penguins transition game pressured the Nashville defensemen and the Penguins speedy forwards were able to get ahead of the Nashville forwards which created gaps in defensive coverage. The Penguins forwards were also able to get to the edge on the defensemen which opened up passing lanes and created extended possession.
Evgeni Malkin started a breakout on the first shift, which became a three-on-two. Rust easily put the rebound into a yawning cage.
Less than one minute later, Alex Galchenyuk had plenty of space around the Nashville net and Kahun slipped through the Nashville defensemen for a quick one-timer.
The Penguins also drove to the net religiously, and with the step on the Nashville forwards, the Penguins had a few open looks.
“I give our players a lot of credit. We win the game. It wasn’t the prettiest win,” Sullivan said. “But we found a way to win. I liked our resilience and our resolve. We didn’t crumble.”