What we're thinking about the morning after an unlikely Stanley Cup Final game one win...
Give Andy Saucier a raise...
I'm guessing not too many fanbases know the name of their video coach, but the Penguins fans certainly know who Andy Saucier is. He's becoming a piece of franchise lore. Last season, down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination in Tampa, Jonathan Drouin scored a huge goal to make the game 1-0. But the Pens challenged and won because the play was sent in just off-side. Sound familiar?
Same sequence of events unfolded in Game 1 of the 2017 SCF, just with Nashville and P.K. Subban scoring but Filip Forsberg being a hair offside. And as soon as that goal went in Sullivan was challenging, pretty clear he was given word immediately that play wasn't kosher. The Pens off-ice crew is pretty clearly on top of all the entries and quickly monitoring everything in real time.
We've been on record (whether the calls help or hurt the Pens) that these ticky-tack offsides reviews (which have little in the course of play to do with the actual goal) are bad for the game. But they're a part of the game, for now, so Pittsburgh might as well operate within the rules when it is to their advantage.
It truly takes an entire team and solid organization from top-to-bottom to win a Stanley Cup and that was showcased again last night.
"Shoot more, shoot everybody"
A lot will be made of the whole "no shots for 37 minutes" thing. And for good reason. With only 12 SOG, that ties a franchise record low for a playoff game. In a way, though not to this extreme, the Pens faced similar troubles in Game 1 against Ottawa with a low number of shots.
The main difference in that game and this was high quality shots. Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel ripping pucks past the glove of Pekka Rinne certainly won't go unnoticed by the Pens as they prep for Game 2. I'm sure the overall emphasis will be more pucks on net in general, but watch to see if the Pens look to challenge Rinne specifically on his glove-side more.
As the old Malkin quote goes, the Pens just need to shoot more, shoot everybody.
Outside of course for getting way more shots, what are the other adjustments Pittsburgh needs to make? Here's a few suggestions that are easier said than done
- Breakouts. The Predators had a lot of success clamping their defensemen along the wall to cut-off Pittsburgh's oft-repeated weak clears up the wall. The logical adjustment would be if there's a defender on the wall, there's more space in the middle of the ice. Much like the Pens did later in the series against Ottawa, their first guy to the puck will need better and more short passes in the D-zone to support players (like centers) to open up the middle of the ice more.
- Penalty kill. Gave up 2 goals, they'll need to clean that up some. Also would be nice to leave it to James Neal and the Preds for taking needless penalties in the first place, but discipline and staying out of the box hasn't been an easy task for Pittsburgh this season. Regardless, Nashville's defensemen are key pieces here with their puck movement and shooting ability they were wrecking havoc in G1. One key might be not to collapse the forwards so much into the goalie and try to disrupt that high puck movement the Preds use so well.
- Pucks on net. Oh, wasn't supposed to mention this one. But maybe less fancy, more quantity of looks for rubber on the net. That's got to be tough to preach for a team who scores 4 non-EN goals on just few good looks but something the coaches will hammer home anyways.
Beware of the split...
The players in the trenches are battling for every inch, every minute of a game, but in the bigger picture I'm sure Nashville would have been pretty pleased coming into the series with a 1-1 split in the first two games in Pittsburgh. That shifts the series back to a raucous Nashville environment where they have a 7-1 record this playoff and probably feel they have a pretty good chance to come out strong in Game 3. Should the Preds win that, they could put a stranglehold on the series and push the Pens to danger in G4.
That mission is still achievable as of now if they can win G2. Every SCF game is obviously crucial, but if the Penguins can "hold serve" by winning their first two home games, the pressure shifts and suddenly it's Pittsburgh who has a chance to push the Preds into an early elimination game if Pittsburgh can get a split of G3-4.
Game 1 isn't everything, but it can be
Speaking of the thought above:
Since Final became best-of-7 in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to capture #StanleyCup 77.9% of the time (60 of 77 series).— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 29, 2017
Pittsburgh knows first-hand that Game 1 isn't everything (having lost G1 to Minnesota in 1991, and G1+2 to Detroit in 2009), but there certainly is a reason why there's such a huge statistical indicator that the Game 1 winner usually goes on to win the Cup. This late in the season, with bodies breaking down and mileage of an 8-month grind piling up, it's very difficult to win after falling behind in the Stanley Cup Final.
But not impossible even in a 0-2 hole, as those scrappy '09 Pens proved. Nothing is even close to settled just yet, however it's just something to keep in mind and think of as we move forward.