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Pens are More Than Just Speed, Tactics Won Game 1

The Penguins did more than just skate in game one, they attacked the weakside forecheck of the Sharks.

Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to game one, San Jose Sharks Head Coach Peter DeBoer said he wasn’t going to change anything in terms of their approach against the Penguins.

After the game, he remained steadfast in his thinking that they just had to play their game telling the media,

We’ll look at the game tape. There was nothing that I saw tonight that going out of here thinking that we can’t come out and compete and play much better in our end. They’re a good team, two best teams in the league, so of course there are things they do well but I think part of it is us fixing our execution and we’ve been pretty good about that throughout the playoff trail here and getting that stuff fixed.

Then during the off-day, DeBoer seemed to hint they are at least thinking about a personnel change for game two as he told the assembled media, "Anytime you have a guy like Nieto available, which he just recently got available to us, he's always a consideration. We'll sleep on that and come up with some decisions tomorrow morning."

If DeBoer hangs his hat on swapping Nieto out in place of a fourth line winger, it won't change what the Penguins did well against the Sharks forecheck in game one.

In the first period, you could see the Penguins reverse the flow of the puck from the pressure point of the forecheck by San Jose and go backside in order to find the weak-side in the Sharks coverage and hope the aggressiveness of the Sharks defensemen stepping up would give the faster Penguins the time and space to make a play.

That's exactly what happened as the Penguins opened game one’s scoring by breaking down the aggressive San Jose forecheck using quick puck movement, speed and great timing to exploit the weak-side of their alignment.

The play started with Ian Cole directing a puck along to his left wing boards toward Chris Kunitz as Joel Ward is below the circle near the goal line, Chris Tierney is coming around behind the net and Melker Karlsson is positioned a few feet inside the blue line as the third man high as Evgeni Malkin is coming up the ice in front of him revving up with speed.

As the puck comes to Kunitz along the boards, he is immediately pressured at the blue line by a pinching Justin Braun but puck support behind the defender by Bryan Rust allows the speedy winger to get the space needed to get to the loose puck.

Not only does Rust have time and space but so does Malkin as he galloped up the ice on right-wing and behind him was Justin Schultz pushing to make it a 3on2 odd-man break against Karlsson and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic.

As Rust carries into the zone, Malkin cuts to the center to provide support for the puck carrier while also creating the angle needed for Schultz to get the clear lane as Vlasic is worried about a forward trying to cover Rust with speed and Malkin having shifted to that side of the ice.

The perfectly timed pass by Rust to Schultz is right on his stick in the slot at the top of the circles that allows him to get a shot off but a good block by Vlasic gets directed right to the charging Rust atop the crease as it was no match for Karlsson to handle the play in tight.

Watch the breakout lead to a goal for Bryan Rust.

College Hockey History at Stanley Cup Final

Sharks Playoff History When Down 0-2 in a Series

It doesn’t mean much in this series but interesting stat, Sharks are 0-10 all-time in playoff series after going down 0-2 to start a series. In the history of the Stanley Cup Final, a team that has lost the first two games has dropped the series 44 of 49 times.

Fearless Replacement

If the Penguins do lose Rust for game two, who is going to be the fearless winger to play alongside Kunitz and Malkin? Does anyone think Beau Bennett can do this? Can Eric Fehr even get into position to go wide against any defensemen? This might be why Matt Cullen gets the call in game two to play alongside the new papa bear.