Kevin Allen , USA TODAY Sports
June 4, 2017
P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins exchange words after the third period during Game Three of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on June 3, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE — Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has game, but he’s not into gamesmanship.
The day after Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban reported that Crosby accused him of having bad breath during a close encounter during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, Crosby said: “He made that up, I didn't say that. He's a guy that likes the attention. If he wants to make stuff up, what can I do?"
If we are going to discuss whether the Predators have figured how to stop Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Crosby will make sure we take personalities out of the equation.
Subban has his style, and Crosby has his.If Crosby is frustrated that he and Malkin were both limited to zero shots on goal in Game 3, he didn’t show it when he met with the media Sunday afternoon.
“We had chances,” Crosby said. “We’ve just got to hit the net. They blocked some and it’s just a matter of winning those battles.”
When a defense figures out how to thwart offensive stars, it’s easy to start believing that the defenders are getting under their skin. Our first impulse is to make it about frustration or anger.
But Crosby always views these situations as being more about execution.
That’s also how his coach views it.
“We would like them to put more pucks on the net,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think they had opportunities to shoot that they passed up. I don’t think that’s always reflected in the statistics.”
In this era of advanced stats, a shot on goal seems like the simplest of stats. How hard can that be?
But that baseline statistic suddenly looms very important heading into Monday’s Game 4. The Penguins still boast a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but they seem like the team that has work to do.
Game 4 is always the most important one because most often it decides whether a series will be tied 2-2 or whether one team will have a commanding 3-1 lead.
In the case of the Penguins vs. Predators, Game 4 seems even more important because the Penguins’ 2-1 lead seems tenuous. The Predators have had several stretches when they have looked like the better team, even in games they lost. Their 5-1 win in Game 3 was impressive. They have outshot the Penguins in each game, with a 97-67 advantage in the series.
This shots-on-goal issue is also important because Sullivan’s tactics center on a belief that nothing breaks down coverage more than a shot on net.
Think about it. Defenders scrambling to find their man. Deflected pucks. Blocked shots. Rebounds. Shots on goal create chaos and the Penguins live for chaos. With their skilled players, chaos is the Penguins' best friend. They find a loose puck and often it's quickly in the net.
Pittsburgh coaches want Malkin, Crosby and even Phil Kessel to shoot more. Malkin didn’t even have a shot attempt last game and Kessel has scored one goal in his past eight playoff games. At Sunday’s practice, assistant coach Rick Tocchet and Kessel, who have a strong relationship, had a lengthy conversation.
“As a coach, it's always a fine line because you don't want to interfere with their instincts,” Sullivan said. “If they see plays that they think are there to be made, then they're going to try to make them. What we try to do with them is just try to get them to think in terms of having that shot-first mindset. I think when they do that, everything else will open up for them.”
It’s not about the quality of Subban’s breath, or what comes out of the players’ mouth in terms of trash-talking. As impressive as the Nashville crowd is, Game 4 also won’t be decided by home-ice advantage.
It will come down to whether Nashville’s defensive coverage is better than Crosby’s, Malkin’s and Kessel’s ability to play through it.
“I go out there and compete, and to be honest, I’m not looking at who’s on (defense) or up front,” Crosby said. “I’m just going out there to compete against whoever it is.”