PITTSBURGH (AP) Four months ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators spent six games trading shots and momentum in a spirited tug-of-war for the Stanley Cup that ended with the Penguins skating away with their second straight title.
A rematch looms Saturday night, though don’t expect either team to get nostalgic. The new season is three days old and both teams appear to be struggling to emerge from a Cup hangover.
The Penguins? Sidney Crosby and company have allowed 15 goals in two games, including the franchise’s worst loss of the Crosby era in a 10-1 meltdown in Chicago on Thursday night that the NHL’s biggest star called “embarrassing.”
Time to table the talk of a “three-peat.” At this point, Pittsburgh would settle for playing three periods of competent hockey.
“It’s a tough lesson but we got to take something from it,” Crosby said. “Hopefully it’s a wakeup call from us.”
Nashville didn’t create quite as big of a mess during a 4-3 setback in Boston on Thursday night. Still, the Predators never led and needed a pair of goals in the final 108 seconds to make the final score more competitive than their play.
“We need to be a lot better in a lot of areas,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think our entire group needs to be better.”
The last time the Predators played at PPG Paints Arena, they arrived with the Cup finals tied at 2. Any chance of upsetting the defending champions evaporated in the first period of Game 5, when the Penguins poured in three goals past Pekka Rinne on their way to a 6-0 victory to reclaim control of the series. Pittsburgh clinched its first Cup back in “Smashville” with a taut 2-0 triumph in Game 6, the series decided on Patric Hornqvist‘s goal with just 1:25 left in the third period.
“You have all those things, those memories in your head and I’m sure you think about them before the game,” Rinne said. “But still, it is a huge game right now for us – we are down 0-1 this season so we have to get back on track.”
Maybe, but not nearly as much as the Penguins. Pittsburgh raised its Cup banner Wednesday night but ended up falling to St. Louis 5-4 in overtime thanks in large part to a defense that surrendered wide swaths of the ice to the Blues. A night later, the Penguins were even worse against the Blackhawks. Chicago scored five goals in the first period alone and it only seemed to get worse.
Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray said his team only needed to “tighten up a bit.” Rather than practice Friday morning, the Penguins spent it reviewing the carnage of their worst defensive performance since allowing 10 goals to San Jose in 1996.
“Right now, more so than results, our coaching staff is concerned or focused on just the mindset or the commitment level to play the game the right way,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When this team starts there, we’re competitive, we can play with anybody. Sometimes we get in certain modes where we’re trying to outscore teams instead of play the game the right way.”
In some ways Pittsburgh is still adjusting to a considerable roster makeover that saw the departure of a handful of key components to their historic run to consecutive titles, including center Nick Bonino, who signed a four-year deal with the Predators in the offseason.
Bonino admitted it’s going to be a little weird getting ready in the visitor’s dressing room and facing so many familiar faces.
“It’s always fun to try and beat them,” Bonino said. “I’m not dreading it. It should be a fun night. I’m glad it’s over early, there’s no build up for it.”