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.