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Mike Sullivan has a simple request for the Penguins: Shoot the puck

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The Ottawa Senators found a way to squeeze out another win on Saturday night when Bobby Ryan scored in overtime to lift them over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It looked an awful lot like the previous Senators’ wins this postseason. A tight, close game that saw them capitalize on a couple of mistakes while they did their best to clog up the middle of the ice and disrupt their opponents offense.

For the Penguins, it is a style of play that is going to require a bit of an adjustment after dealing with teams that aggressively forechecked in the first two rounds, putting constant pressure on their defense.

But while the Senators were successful in slowing down the Penguins’ offensive attack, coach Mike Sullivan felt his team actually had a lot of opportunities to make more things happen given how much offensive zone time they had. They just simply passed on them. In other words, he wants to see them them shoot the puck a little bit more.

After being one of the best teams in the league at generating shots in the regular season (more than 34 per game), the Penguins have been one of the worst in the playoffs, averaging just 27.7 through Game 1 on Saturday night.

On Sunday, Sullivan was asked about why that has happened.

“I wish I had an answer for you,” said Sullivan. “Part of it, I think, is just a heightened awareness and a mindset to put the puck on the net. One of the things we did this morning when we had our film session is we showed them a number of different opportunities where we felt we could have put the puck on the net and we chose not to.”

He went on to talk about how this is not something that just happened on Saturday night, and is not necessarily a new problem for them.

“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. It forces decision making. If there’s hesitation, or sometimes there’s duplication of jobs, that’s when opportunity presents itself I just felt, or we felt as a coaching staff, that we had a number of opportunities where we chose not to put the puck at the net where we felt, if we did, then good things could possibly happen. We had significant zone time. We had significant possession time. We were pleased with those types of numbers from that regard, but there are certainly areas where we know we can get better.”

Even with the ugly shot numbers this postseason, and even without a couple of key players due to injury (which has almost certainly contributed to those shot numbers), the Penguins have still found a way to average 3.23 goals per game in the playoffs, by far the highest mark in the league. That is simply a reflection of the high-end talent on the roster and their ability to strike quickly when their opponents make a mistake. But shot volume is still an essential ingredient for scoring goals over the long haul. Plus, the Senators are an extremely disciplined and systematic team that is not going to allow some of those odd-man rush opportunities the Penguins had in the first two rounds.

Saturday’s game was a strange one for the Penguins. They looked out of sync at times, went 0-for-5 on the power play and were outshot for the 11th time in 13 games, a drastic change from what we saw from them in the playoffs a year ago. But they also fired three shots off the post (including a rocket of a Phil Kessel shot that rang off the cross bar in the final minutes) and watched as Senators goalie Craig Anderson played a fantastic game that included a couple of highlight reel saves. So it’s not like they were completely without opportunities to score. But they can clearly still do a bit more to increase their chances of breaking through Anderson and the Senators’ defense.

After playing for Canada, journeyman Chris Lee reportedly leaving KHL for NHL

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His numbers in the KHL jump right off the page.

And he just won a silver medal with Canada at the Worlds.

So it’s no huge surprise to hear, via Aivis Kalniņš, that defenseman Chris Lee has left Magnitagorsk Metallurg to pursue a shot in the NHL.

Lee, who turns 37 in October, had 65 points (15G, 50A) in 60 games for Metallurg this season. He was partnered with Viktor Antipin, the 24-year-old who will reportedly join the Sabres next season. Predictably, there has been speculation that Lee could be on his way to Buffalo.

A late bloomer, Lee was never drafted and has never played an NHL game. He spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, after getting his start in the ECHL following four years at SUNY-Potsdam. He left for Europe in 2010 and played in Germany and Sweden before arriving in the KHL.

Lee was the only non-NHLer on Canada’s roster at the Worlds.

“Lee fit,” coach Jon Cooper said, per Sportsnet. “You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”

‘Many teams’ interested in Leafs prospect Toninato, who could go UFA

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Here’s a name to keep an eye on as this summer progresses: Dominic Toninato.

Toninato, 23, was Toronto’s fifth-round pick way back in 2012. From there, he went the collegiate route and put together a strong four years at Minnesota-Duluth. His NCAA career culminated with a senior season in which he served as team captain, set a personal high in points and led the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four final.

Though his rights are currently owned by the Leafs, Toninato would become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16 if he and the club don’t reach an agreement. You’d think, based on his body of work, Toninato would be a major priority for GM Lou Lamoriello, but it’s not that simple. Thanks to years of stockpiling draft picks, Toronto has a ton of prospects — but can only have 50 players under contract at the NHL level.

Adding to the complexity? There are other teams lined up to make Toninato an offer.

“Dom’s a good player. Will teams be interested? Yes. There will be many teams interested in him,” agent Neil Sheehy told the Star. “The process right now is working with the Leafs. They hold his rights till Aug. 16.

“They have a lot of things that they’re trying to figure out.”

Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound especially promising in Toronto. The club offered Toninato a deal last summer, which he turned down to return to school. They could offer him an AHL contract — there’s no limit on those — but Sheehy said his client isn’t interested in that.

Sheehy said he hopes to have more clarity in late June, following the expansion and entry drafts.

 

 

Expansion draft will force Ducks to make some big decisions

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Bob Murray managed to keep the Anaheim Ducks together for a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But after losing to Nashville in the Western Conference Final, Anaheim’s general manager will now have to make some big decisions — especially with the expansion draft looming.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen, the blue line will definitely be worth watching. Hampus Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Sami Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. And after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign. For that reason, it’s possible Murray may choose to shop Fowler instead. Or perhaps it’s Vatanen that goes on the block.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

In goal, the Ducks have John Gibson under club control for years to come, but they’ll need to choose a backup. Jonathan Bernier is an unrestricted free agent, and even though he played well during the regular season, his performance against the Predators wasn’t great. Murray may want to at least consider his options there.

Related: Fowler surprised he wasn’t traded

Carlyle says Ducks were dealt ‘tough hand’ by schedule-makers

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Call it sour grapes if you wish, but Randy Carlyle thinks the Anaheim Ducks got screwed by the NHL’s schedule-maker.

The head coach launched his complaint last night after his Ducks fell to the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.

“I don’t think we played poorly in the series,” said Carlyle. “I think that the toughest part I have about the whole thing is that this was our seventh game in 13 days.

“Now, there’s various reasons for that, but I think there’s got to be some consideration in the scheduling in the future between series. We finished on a Wednesday and had to open again on Friday, whereas other teams had to open on Saturday. An extra day would have given us a chance to recover. And we know how tough these games are. And that was a tough hand that was dealt to us.”

The “other” team to which Carlyle was referring is Pittsburgh. The Penguins beat Washington in Game 7 of the second round on May 10, then opened against Ottawa on May 13.

The Ducks, on the other hand, knocked out Edmonton in Game 7, also on May 10, then had to start against Nashville on May 12.

Fatigue may, indeed, have been a factor early in the series against Nashville. In Game 1, the Ducks were badly outshot, 46-29, and lost, 3-2, in overtime.

Carlyle said afterwards that the extra rest had made a difference for the Preds, who’d eliminated the Blues in six and gone four days without a game.