PITTSBURGH – The penalty kill is beginning to look like a potential Achilles’ heel for the Detroit Red Wings.
It’s arguably the only facet of the game that they’ve failed to excel at during this post-season. And it reared its ugly head once again during a 4-2 loss in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh was able to capitalize on two of its three chances with the man advantage – including the game-winning goal by Sergei Gonchar – and managed to turn this into a real series in the process.
The Red Wings have killed just 71 per cent of their penalties during this playoff run and don’t seem to have much of an explanation for why it’s happened.
“For whatever reason, we’ve had some trouble with it,” said defenceman Brad Stuart. “If we knew exactly why we would have corrected it. We’re getting some bad breaks. The last goal, we just got caught out there and we’re a little gassed.
“We’ve come up with some timely kills but definitely statistically this doesn’t look too good.”
The biggest concern for coach Mike Babcock following Tuesday’s loss seemed to be some of the infractions that referees Paul Devorski and Dennis LaRue chose not to call.
In particular, he was unhappy that the interference penalty given to Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson in the third period happened on the same kind of play that the Pittsburgh defencemen were allowed to make on several occasions in their own end. And that ended up being the difference.
“It was a power-play game,” said Babcock. “They got three and we got two. You know, that’s the facts.”
Pittsburgh’s first goal with the man advantage wasn’t the result of a breakdown by the Detroit penalty killers, although Babcock was unhappy that the Penguins were able to complete a cross-ice pass before Kris Letang’s point shot beat Chris Osgood.
In the third, Gonchar scored the winner after his teammates kept control of the puck for more than a minute.
“Tonight, we couldn’t get the puck out, especially the third goal,” said Red Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg. “We did a lot of good things but we ended up being there for almost 90 seconds. It gets tiring. They had good players out there, and they’ll make a play eventually.”
If it weren’t for the difference in special teams play, Detroit might have found itself with a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
They had a bit of a slow start before rebounding with 10 consecutive shots in the first period and completely dominated play in the second. The Red Wings still feel pretty good about their situation heading into Game 4 on Thursday.
“It’s the same type of thing that we always talk about,” said Stuart. “We’re not going to change a whole lot. I think we’ll probably want to start better and go from there. We did some good things – they won the game, that’s it.”
Added forward Mikael Samuelsson: “I don’t think anyone should come in here and sweep (the Penguins). We’re playing well.”
Samuelsson played despite battling a case of the flu and rattled a shot off the post at the end of a rush in the second period. Those were the sort of things that plagued Pittsburgh in the first two games of the series and ended up costing the Red Wings in Game 3.
It’s bound to happen.
“Things like that always even up over the course of the playoffs,” said Zetterberg.
The most glaring break that went the Penguins way came during a 21-second stretch in the first period when they had six skaters on the ice. There was no call for too many men on the ice.
Asked about that series of events, Babcock chose to bite his tongue.
“What do you want me to say? You know, see you guys tomorrow,” he said.