DETROIT – The Pittsburgh Penguins are new to this whole trailing business.
Down 1-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final, all eyes are on the young Penguins to see how they respond in Game 2 Monday night.
They went up 3-0 in all three previous series, never once feeling like there weren’t in control. They trailed for only 115:37 out of 847:10 of total playing time before the Cup final, down in the score just 13.6 per cent of the time. Being behind the eight-ball is unchartered territory.
“It’s no different in here today,” Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi said Sunday after practice. “We’re not going to panic in here. It would be different had we played our best game last night and still lost. Then there would be a little cause for concern.
“But we didn’t think we played our top game.”
Detroit’s convincing 4-0 win Saturday night already had some pundits saying the Penguins aren’t ready for this yet. That kind of talk had Penguins forward Maxime Talbot rolling his eyes.
“People have been saying that for a week,” said Talbot. “‘Oh, this is a young team that needs to lose before it wins.’ And I think that’s totally stupid. We’re here to win and we’re going to bounce back. …
“I don’t think this team is too stressed about it.”
The Red Wings also don’t buy the talk of the rattled, young Penguins.
“Sure they’re young, but at the same time some of them are pretty experienced for their age,” said Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall, who was outstanding in Game 1. “They’ve got unbelievable talent. It’s going to be a long series and we’re prepared for it.”
Calling it his team’s worst effort of the playoffs, Penguins head coach Michel Therrien has shuffled the deck, creating new line combinations in the hope of kickstarting his offence. Ryan Malone joined Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa on the top line, Talbot is now with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora, Pascal Dupuis finds himself with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy while Gary Roberts rejoins the lineup on a line with Adam Hall and Jarkko Ruutu. Tough guy Georges Laraque, who had played every game in the playoffs, is out.
“We’ve got to make adjustments,” said Therrien. “Every team has to make adjustments through the course of the playoffs. And we believe those adjustments are going to help us to get success.”
Roberts wasn’t pleased at not playing in the Cup opener but Therrien had himself a trump card in case his team struggled out of the gates. Now he can unleash the 42-year-old winger on the Wings.
“I feel good,” said Roberts, who has recovered from a mild case of pneumonia. “I’ve had a good week of practice. My health is as good as it’s been all year. So I’m excited to be back.”
Roberts is one of the few veteran voices in a Penguins dressing room stocked with 1980s birth certificates. He disagrees his young teammates look rattled after the Game 1 stinker.
“Marc-Andre Fleury has been oustanding. Sid, Malkin, Staal – they’ve been professionals all season,” said Roberts. “We didn’t win three rounds because we were totally inexperienced. Everybody says we didn’t face adversity. Hey, it’s the playoffs, you face adversity every night.
“So I’m a believer this group will bounce back tomorrow night like we have in the past.”
The key for Pittsburgh is to get Malkin back on board. The 21-year-old Russian star hasn’t played his best hockey since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, limited to two points in his last five games. Therrien had a chat with him before practice Sunday.
“I think we’re a staff that likes to communicate with the players,” said Therrien. “We sat down with Gino today, as we have with a lot of players. … With a player like this, I believe you’ve got to be positive with him. He feeds from positive …
“Just reminding him this morning that I want him to be a leader again,” Therrien later added. “And we need him. He’s a big part of our success.”
Malkin, in a broken but improving English, knows he needs to pick it up a notch.
“I’m not pressure, I play next game better,” Malkin said. “First game I’m a little bit nervous. Next game I play better.”
He needs to. If Malkin doesn’t snap out of it, the Penguins are cooked. When he’s going, it gives the Penguins two dangerous lines. When he’s not, the other team can focus on stopping Crosby alone.
“First of all, we still have a lot of confidence in him,” said Therrien. “He’s a world-class player. He needs to stay focused. He needs to stay on top of his game. He needs to skate. He needs to battle. And if he’s doing those things, good things can happen to him.
“But we do have a lot of confidence in him. He’s going to bring his game where it’s supposed to be.”