Penguins look for more shots on goal against Senators
After Sunday’s practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, Sidney Crosby recalled just one instance from Saturday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final where he potentially forced a play and consequently cost the Penguins a scoring chance opportunity.
But the captain also explained that he rarely second-guesses his decisions after the fact.
“I don’t usually dissect my game that much,” Crosby said. “I’m not going to start now.”
For Crosby, who finished with two shots on goal in a 2-1 overtime loss to Ottawa in Game 1 and tallied just one shot attempt in regulation, there’s still plenty of confidence that better offense will come in this series. Arguably the best hockey player on the planet can afford to think that way. But the Penguins, at coach Mike Sullivan’s behest, will try to challenge themselves to get more pucks to the net.
Just 14 of the Penguins’ 28 shots in the loss came during the game’s approximately 52 minutes of five-on-five play. That rate ranked as the second-lowest in Sullivan’s tenure as coach. But it hardly represented an aberration, a reality acknowledged by the coach. Six of the Penguins’ 15 lowest five-on-five shots-on-goal rates in games under Sullivan have come in these playoffs, and 13 of the 15 occurred this season.
Why, with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in the lineup this postseason, might the dropoff happen?
“I wish I had an answer for you,” Sullivan said. “One of the things we did (Sunday) morning when we had our film session is we showed them a number of different opportunities where we felt we could’ve put the puck on the net, and we chose not to.
“I think this is something that’s crept into our game over the last few weeks, and I think we’ve got to simplify our game a little bit and just look for opportunities to put more pucks to the net and then we’ve got to get guys that are going to go to the net and try to compete for those rebounds and those next-play opportunities. I’ve always been a believer that nothing breaks coverage down better than a shot on goal. It forces decision making, and if there’s hesitation or sometimes there’s duplication of jobs, that’s when opportunity presents itself.”
As the Penguins quickly learned in Game 1, Ottawa prides itself on rarely allowing high-quality scoring opportunities. The Senators protected the net front in a far more efficient manner than Columbus and Washington, which left the Penguins frustrated after a pair of playoff series in which they thrived largely on their ability to shoot from close range.
“They do a really good job of getting in the shot lanes and making sure they take away those Grade-A areas,” said Bryan Rust, Crosby’s winger in Game 1. “I think that’s just going to make it a little bit harder on us. We’ve got to work a little bit harder to get inside the (net-front) area and get more Grade-A’s. … . Maybe shoot from off the angles and try to create some rebounds or try to take pucks to the net maybe a little bit harder, maybe a little bit sooner.”
The Penguins don’t think developments from Saturday raised doubt among the Senators about the viability of their neutral-zone-clogging 1-3-1 forecheck or their pack-it-in defensive-zone coverage.
Crosby believes there’s no reason for the Penguins to panic, though.
“I think they’re pretty committed to protecting their net and being there,” Crosby said. “We don’t have to change anything. We just need to make sure that when we get opportunities to shoot, we shoot it. And we need to compete for rebounds that are there and get our sticks on those.
“It’s going to be tight. You’re going to get a handful chances, and you’ve got to find ways to put them in.”