Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battles for the puck against Ryan Ellis #4 of the Nashville Predators during Game Three of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on June 3, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Did ears deceive, or did Tommy Shaw of Styx perform Steelers anthem “Renegade” Saturday night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena?
He’s dead to me.
Now that the urgent news is dealt with, my advice to Penguins fans is: Don’t panic.
Penguins fans often do.
It happened after losing Game 6 at Ottawa.
It happened after losing Games 5 and 6 to Washington.
It happened after losing Games 3 and 5 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final against San Jose.
The Penguins lose, and Twitter turns into a breeding ground for hysteria and stupidity. Fingers are pointed at the usual whipping boys.
The team doesn’t crack. Too many of its supporters do.
That said, there are concerns heading into Monday’s Game 4.
In Game 3, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn’t get a shot on goal between them. That’s almost impossible to believe.
It has little to do with anything Nashville is doing, though their defensemen regrouped and played well in Game 3.
Crosby and Malkin didn’t get the motor going in Game 3 mostly because the Penguins’ transition game is non-existent. The forwards aren’t getting the puck with speed via precise passes through the neutral zone.
Also, Crosby and Malkin seem to be in a pass-first mode. The power play hasn’t scored in its last 12 attempts. That shackles the Penguins’ two superstars (and is their fault to a large degree).
Moving forward, there’s no excuse for Crosby and Malkin to not do more. They’re the straws that stir the drink.
But the Penguins’ rotten transition is the team’s single biggest problem. The defensemen are too often flailing, content to just get rid of the puck. Never mind inaccurate passes, failed clears also abound.
Bad transition makes the Penguins appear much slower.
Fatigue is another problem.
Carl Hagelin played his first game in over a week Saturday, and was flying. Usually that blends in, because the Penguins are a fast team.
In Game 3, that stood out. Not good.
The Penguins played 10 more playoff games than the Predators last year, and have played three more this spring. Very rarely does a team look quicker than the Penguins. Nashville does, especially on the forecheck.
It took a long time for the Penguins to badly miss Kris Letang.
Right now, they do.
It’s fair to say the Penguins haven’t played their best hockey in this series, and lead two games to one primarily on guile. The Penguins have only reached their “A” game in spurts.
The Penguins need to spend more time in Nashville’s zone. The Predators don’t double up on the puck in the defensive corners, so lack of time in the offensive zone can primarily be blamed on the failure to win 1-on-1 battles.
The Penguins can use craft and experience to bleed out this series, and probably will.
But here’s an idea for Game 4: Insert defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and wingers Josh Archibald and Tom Kuhnhackl (who is cleared to play after being injured).
Scratch Ron Hainsey, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson. (Carter Rowney has to play center in Nick Bonino’s absence, so he can’t sit.)
That’s not meant to scapegoat Hainsey, Sheary and Wilson. Each has done OK with his allotted opportunity, especially Hainsey, who has been quite solid in his first-ever Stanley Cup playoffs.
But Ruhwedel might aid transition, and he’s rested. Archibald and Kuhnhackl are likewise fresh, and would help immensely with the forecheck.
Better transition is the top need, followed closely by a better Game 4 for Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel (who was hideous in Game 3 and has mostly disappeared in this final). Crosby, Malkin and Kessel have piled up points in this postseason. But now they need to get big points.
Goalie Matt Murray can play better, and will. Murray (7-0 after playoff losses) ranks among the least of the Penguins’ worries.
The Penguins are still the better team, haven’t often played like it, and are still in control of the series. No need for panic.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).