PITTSBURGH — The Penguins have a big problem heading into Game 2 on Friday night.
They don’t know what to practice and try to improve on.
The penalty kill? After surrendering a power-play goal in 10 of their last 13 regular-season games, including multiple-goal affairs in losses to Toronto and the Rangers (yes, the Rangers), the Penguins did not allow one shot to reach goaltender Matt Murray in four Flyers power plays during Wednesday’s 7-0 drubbing.
Of their 24 blocked shots in the game, 17 were made by defensemen. “I think pretty much everyone is going to put their body on the line in the playoffs,’’ Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said after Friday morning’s skate. “It’s just something you do for your team. It’s expected of you a little bit. Even guys who are a little more offensive and join the rush a little more will go down. I think it’s just what you’ve got to do to win.
“At the same time, you’ve got to be smart about it. You don’t want to be blocking your goalie or getting in your goalie’s eyes.’’
Said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan: “I just think the commitment, the attention to detail, the willingness to compete in the battles, working together, getting in shot lanes. I think the word that jumps out at me is overall commitment. Because when you’re willing to play the game the right way, then you’re committed to defend. I know our group is a capable group. And when we defend hard, I think we can create a lot of offense off of our defense. We become a harder team to play against. That’s how you win at this time of the year. And I thought to a man the other night our guys were committed to playing away from the puck.’’
The challenge now is to duplicate that. To a man, the Penguins have vowed not to assume the same effort or strategy coming at them tonight. And they need only to trace back to last season’s Stanley Cup run for an example of what can happen after they put a touchdown up on somebody. The Ottawa Senators, lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Pittsburgh by a 7-0 score, then won Game 6, 2-1.
Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson stopped 45 of 46 shots. And that game was played in Ottawa. Still …
“I think you’ve got to look at it as a series on the whole,’’ Oleksiak said. “It’s a 1-nothing series. So that’s a lot tighter. You can score as many goals as you want that first game, but second game, we’re right back to square one. It’s another big game, and we want to use home ice to our advantage.’’
“Our players are well aware of how the playoffs operate,’’ Sullivan said. “We were obviously pleased with the effort that we had in Game 1. That’s all it is — one game. We watched at film [Thursday] morning. We tried to look at ways where we can get better and areas that we thought we had success, and we tried to show them that.
“Now we’ve got to reset our mindset and be ready, Game 2. We know it’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a good hockey team. We would expect that they would respond appropriately.’’