It may not show it on the scoreboard — where they have scored just five goals in two games — and it may not necessarily show it in the standings — where they are tied 1-1 in the series — but the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing exactly the way you would want them to be playing in their qualifying round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Are there are a handful of factors to be concerned about? Absolutely there are, especially as it relates to the absurd struggles of power play, the still unsettled nature of the third line, and the anxiety that the third defense pair creates every time it takes the ice.
Big picture here, the Penguins are doing exactly what you want them to do to a lower-seeded opponent. They are carrying the play. The only thing that is keeping this a series and keeping things close is the play of Carey Price in the Montreal net, and everybody knew that was always going to be a possibility. Not only because Price still has that capability, but because postseason hockey can be crazy like that to begin with.
The best way to combat that is to keep dominating play and, yes, trusting the process.
So far through two games I am happy with the process, even including the Game 1 loss which really came down to a couple of blown shifts leading to decisive goals against. Overall though, I liked the game at 5-on-5. I liked it even more in Game 2. Coming into this series one of the big arguments in favor of a Canadiens upset was not necessarily revolving around Price’s ability, but the fact that the Canadiens were a strong 5-on-5 team that could carry the play and drive possession (I even talked about that a little bit here).
But heading into Game 3 on Wednesday night it has been the Penguins that have carried the play in that regard. Significantly.
They have a 52 percent shot attempt share at 5-on-5, an even bigger share of the scoring chances (57 percent), high-danger scoring chances (55 percent), and expected goals (55 percent). There is no guarantee that sort of play leads to victory, especially in a playoff series, but it certainly gives you a better chance than if you are the one constantly on your heels defending in your own zone. Even with the power play struggles and the occasional blown shift from Game 1 there really has not been a point through these first two games where I said to myself, “man, the Penguins are getting outplayed here.” The odd-man rushes against are not there. They are applying pressure. They are generating chances.
It has consistently been a thought process of, “Price is keeping this close” with the occasional power play induced profanity thrown in.
When your team is the favorite and has the superior talent and roster on paper it can be difficult to accept the “we’re playing well, just not getting the results” argument when ... well ... you are not getting the results you want or expect.
You expect total domination and anything less than that is seen as a failure or a struggle. Or not bearing down enough, or not getting the job done, or whatever else you want to say about what shows up on the scoreboard (or does not show up on the scoreboard).
The only way I can counter that is to say, that is hockey — sometimes shit happens.
Sometimes no matter what you do or how well you play there is something that is going to keep things close. If the Penguins can keep doing what they have done through the first two games they are going to put themselves in a great position to advance. Keep applying the pressure to price, keep pushing the pace, keep generating chances and keep hoping that eventually you have that breakthrough on the scoreboard.
As bad as the power play has looked, it is still just one shot away from completely changing a game. Evgeni Malkin has yet to really go off in this series and I still think he can (and will). Combine that with the way they really have pushed the play at even-strength and I remain optimistic the Penguins are going to take care of business. The process is there. Keep trusting it.