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Penguins believe they can be better, break down tight-checking Senators defense

The Penguins trail in a series for the first time this post-season after dropping Game 1 to the Senators, but Pittsburgh believes they can and will be better as the series progresses.

CRANBERRY PA - Let’s get this out of the way right now. Not always, but a lot of the time, the Ottawa Senators play a style of hockey that is really tedious to watch. They did it to perfection in Game 1 and beat the Stanley Cup champions doing it. It works for them, seeing as they’re one of the final four teams in the playoffs. They owe nothing to the game of hockey. They owe it to each other and to their fans to do what it takes to win as many games as possible.

So after playing teams in the first two rounds that came hard at them and pursued the puck, the Pittsburgh Penguins would gather the puck in their own zone in Game 1 and see their opponents skating backward. They would stand behind their net waiting for a forecheck that simply wasn’t coming. And, believe it or not, that takes some adjustment.

“As much as you watch video and as much as you talk about it, experience is something different,” said Penguins defenseman Ian Cole. “Do I think we played our best game last game? No, I don’t. Do I think we played terribly? No, I don’t. I think it’s somewhere in the middle. But I know we can play a better game, a cleaner game and I know we can play a game where we execute a little better and that might lead to more chances offensively.”

And for that reason, the Penguins didn’t seem terribly panicked or flummoxed that they are trailing in a series for the first time in these playoffs. Starting with their best player, they know they can be better. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was, at times, non-existent in Game 1, registering just two shot attempts and going 12-for-31 in the faceoff circle. The shot total was surprising for Crosby, but he was like a lot of other Penguins who had some good possession time in the offensive zone, but simply didn’t get enough pucks on Senators goalie Craig Anderson. It was something Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made certain to address during the team’s video session on Sunday.

“But I don’t think it was something that just happened last night,” Sullivan said. “I think this is something that’s crept into our game over the last few weeks, and I think we’ve got to simplify our game a little bit and just look for opportunities to put more pucks at the net, and then we’ve got to get guys that are going to go to the net and try to compete for those rebounds and those next play opportunities. I’ve always been a believer that nothing breaks coverage down better than a shot on goal.”

That and the Penguins’ vaunted speed are their best weapons against the Senators. Nothing beats the trap like speed and instead of using that in Game 1, they allowed the Senators to muck up the ice surface and slow them down. We know they should, generally speaking, be able to get out of their zone without much problem. So the speed is going to have to start there. They know the Senators are probably not going to change. Not that the Senators don’t have the capacity to change, but they know sticking with this style represents their best chance of winning the series.

“I don’t think you’re going to pull them away from there,” Crosby said of the Senators’ penchant for collapsing around their net. “They’re committed to defending there. Whether it’s shooting pucks or getting guys in that area to get rebounds, create traffic and screens and things like that.but I think they’re pretty committed to protecting their net and being there. We don’t have to change anything, but we just need to make sure, when we get opportunities to shoot, we shoot it. And we need to compete for rebounds that are there and get our sticks on those.”

Unlike the Penguins, the Senators chose not to skate Sunday. Coach Guy Boucher spoke of the team’s “pack mentality” and how it served them really well in Game 1, defending not only against Crosby, but the entire Penguin team. He expects the Penguins to come out much sharper in Game 2 and that would be a wise way to think. He saw what the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers responded to them and those teams aren’t as good as the one they’re facing in the Eastern Conference final.

“It was scary. It wasn’t fun to live,” Boucher said of the pushback his team faced in the first two rounds. “But at least now when I say, ‘There’s going to be a pushback,’ the guys can imagine it now. Before we talked about it, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a pushback,’ but it always stays a little fictional. I think we got slapped quite hard in the forehead in that third game (against the Rangers) in their barn and now at least we have an image of what it could be. And it might even be worse because they have such high-end players. You name it, they have it."


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