Sunday, May 14, 2017

Penguins need to give themselves a better shot

By Kevin Gorman
May 14, 2017
Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot against the Ottawa Senators in Game One of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 13, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Penguins made it painfully clear they need to shoot more to score. And the Ottawa Senators made it obvious it's going to take more than one goal to beat them.
The Senators stole Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night with a 2-1 overtime victory at PPG Paints Arena, not so much with their neutral-zone trap but rather by beating the Penguins at their own game: Scoring with speed in transition.
Bobby Ryan's game winner at 4 minutes, 59 seconds of overtime was a Penguins type of play. But for a team whose personality is predicated on defense, it was odd to see Ottawa outshoot the Penguins, 35-28.
“I don't think we got enough pucks to the net,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were looking for that next play instead of putting pucks at the net.”
Oh, the Penguins put pucks off the post and the crossbar. Finding the back of the net was the problem.
“We need to score goals,” Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said. “Crossbar is not a goal.”
No one knows that today quite like Phil Kessel.
Not long after Malkin had tied it at 1-1 with a redirect of a Chris Kunitz shot at 14:25, Kessel had a chance to score the go-ahead goal. Moments later, Kunitz set up Kessel in the high slot, but his shot bounced off the crossbar.
It looked like a winner.
“Every time the puck is on Phil's stick,” Kunitz said, “I think it's going to go in.”
Problem is, the puck hasn't been on Phil's stick enough lately. Or, more to the point, he hasn't put it on net enough to score goals. Kessel finished with three shots.
Never was that more evident than in the first period, when the Penguins went 0 for 4 on the power play. That included 45 seconds with a two-man advantage. Yet Kessel and the Penguins came up empty.
“Obviously, our power play had the opportunity to be the difference in the first period, and we didn't execute,” Sullivan said. “We had a lot of power-play time in the first period. We have an opportunity there to grab a lead. I just think we didn't execute. The movement wasn't there. The passes weren't crisp.
“Those guys, for most of the playoffs, have been really good and locked in. They've done a commendable job for us for most of the playoffs. For whatever reason, we just didn't see it executed in the first period.”
It's not entirely Kessel's fault, of course. But the winger is known for scoring goals, and he has managed only one in the past six games.
Still, Kessel ranks second in the Stanley Cup playoffs with four power-play goals. Malkin was leading the NHL in assists, and seven of his 13 have come on the power play.
“We not score five-on-three, five-on-four a couple times, and we start getting frustrated,” Malkin said. “We're mad at each other a little bit. We need to forget everything. It's the conference final. Sometimes, it's not working. We need to support each other.
“The next game, we could have one or two chances, we need to help the team to score because our power play is usually so much better.”
For all of his success last postseason with the HBK line — Kessel scored a team-best 22 points, including 10 goals, in 24 playoff games — it's important to remember Kessel presented a mismatch against opposing third defensive pairings.
Now, skating on the second line alongside Malkin, Kessel is drawing better pairings.
Kessel remains one of the NHL's best snipers. But to score, he's got to shoot. And, as the Penguins learned, they have to shoot to win.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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