Okay so Game 1 did not go as planned for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They fell behind early, rallied to tie the game, then lost in overtime in a game full of missed opportunities and mistakes.
Anytime you lose a playoff game — especially the first playoff game — to a lower-seeded team to fall behind in a series there is going to be an element of concern. That is especially true in a situation like this where it is only a best-of-five series and when losing means you technically miss the playoffs.
Obviously, there are some concerns after the first game. But which concern should be we be most worried about going into Game 2? I have some thoughts!
- The power play
I start this by saying it IS entirely possible to win the Stanley Cup with a crappy power play. Teams have done it before and it is far from a necessary element for a championship team. But holy crap, this unit was the single biggest factor in Saturday’s loss. Forget Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz. Forget the third line. Forget goaltending. It was this group. The power play underachieved for most of the season (given its talent) and when it was bad it was painful to watch, bordering on incompetence. That is the unit we saw on Saturday. Not scoring on the 5-on-3 early in the third period was bad enough, but the power plays that followed that in the third period and overtime were a disaster given the situation and what was at stake. The problem is I am not sure they can fix it at this point in the season, even with all of that talent. Level of concern: Just below PANIC
2. The third defense pairing
Look, I do not want to jump on the pile here. But the bottom line is this: Weaknesses get exploited in playoff series. This is a weakness, and it is a weakness that an opponent can take advantage of when they play you every game. I am not going to pin Saturday’s loss on the Jack Johnson-Justin Schultz pairing, but they were the worst defense pairing the team had during the regular season, and they were not good on Saturday, even if they were not totally at fault for either goal they were on the ice for. I am not completely convinced that either Chad Ruhwedel and/or Jusso Rikkola is an upgrade over either player, but I am willing to find out at this point. The Penguins have two really good defense pairings, and then a third one that could render all of it meaningless in 15 minutes of ice-time. Level of concern: Very high
3. Carey Price
I laughed off the idea of the Penguins being afraid of Price when some people were trying to push that narrative a couple of months ago, and I will still laugh it off now. They are not afraid of him, nor should they be. Price is not the MVP level player he was four or five years ago when he was arguably one of the league’s most impactful players. Having said that, he is still perfectly capable of turning things upside down if he gets on a roll for a couple of games. The way he played in the first 10 minutes on Saturday you got the sense he was going to have it together in that game and make things difficult. He only has to do that two more times over the next four games to make things really frustrating. It is not a guarantee that he will do it, but he is very capable of it. Level of concern: Fairly high
4. The third line
My big concern with this group was the fact they had never really played together as a group and were seemingly just pieced together because there was nowhere else to put them elsewhere in the lineup. That is what they played like on Saturday. Calling the group ineffective would be an understatement. Each of the Penguins’ past three Stanley Cup winning teams had a dominant third line that could be a major contributor offensively, an element that is a MUST for a championship winning team. Your best players are not going to score goals every single game and you have to have a third (and a fourth) line that can pick up that slack. In theory, all three of Jared McCann, Patric Hornqvist, and Patrick Marleau should be able to do that. The key is hoping they can make that happen while playing together as a cohesive unit. The early returns on Saturday were not promising. Level of concern: Moderate
5. The Penguins goaltending
This was probably my biggest concern at the start of the playoffs, just because neither Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry had done much down the stretch run of the regular season to secure the starting job and give everyone confidence. It is not unfair to say they were one of the weak links on the roster at that point. Very capable of playing well and winning, but also very capable of self destructing and being the reason the team does not win. Honestly, though, I have no complaints with the way Murray played on Saturday and see no reason to make a switch at this point. The worst goal he allowed was the one to Nick Suzuki in the second period, and while you would like to see your goalie make a big save in that situation it was a pretty great shot by Suzuki, and sometimes you do have to just tip your cap to the other guy and say, “you beat me.” Maybe Jarry stops that shot. Maybe he gives up a goal on some other shots that Murray stopped. Level of concern: Moderate.
6. Conor Sheary on the top line
Sheary had a game to forget on Saturday with some missed opportunities and a failed penalty shot with three minutes to play in regulation. It is a game he would probably like to forget, and it will no dout start a discussion about swapping him out for someone else or shuffling lines. Not sure that is necessary at this point. I would rather see a player generate a chance and fail to convert it then generate no chance. I also feel like since this trio of players (Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Sheary) has had success before it is worth giving them another chance. I do not want to break up the Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust line, and I am not sure anyone on the third line fits. Level of concern: Low