Allowing a goal in the first minute of play isn’t the best way to start a game. Allowing three more in a two-minute span doesn’t help either. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-1 loss in Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators wasn’t good. In Matt Cullen’s eloquent words, the team “played like shit.” But every dark cloud has a silver lining, even if there are five dark clouds and the silver lining’s hard to see. And see it we must, because this series isn’t close to being over.
1) Penguins’ Power Play Ends the Drought
The lone Penguins goal of the game was scored on a power play. Before this, the team hadn’t tallied a point on a power play in the series, including five opportunities in their Game 1 loss. With five missed opportunities in the last two games against the Washington Capitals and six from the first two games in the Senators series, the Penguins had gone eleven straight power plays without scoring. The Sidney Crosby goal finally broke that drought and gave some life to a star-studded but listless power play unit.
Also, if it’s any consolation, the Senators’ power play has been struggling even more than the Penguins’. The Senators have a 12.5 percent power play conversion rate in the postseason, by far the worst of any of the four teams still remaining and significantly lower than the Penguins’ 19.1 percent. And even though the Penguins took far too many penalties in Game 3 (the official total is 22 minutes, but that includes Evgeni Malkin’s mysterious 10-minute violation at the end of the game, so let’s go with 12, which is still far too much), the Senators were held scoreless. That’s good, I guess. They still scored five other times, but, you know, count your blessings.
2) Crosby is Back
The Crosby goal ended another drought as well; prior to this tally, it had been seven games since Crosby had scored. A seven-game scoreless drought is close to the longest he’s had all season and some worry that he is still not playing at 100 percent after his concussion diagnosis in the middle of the second round.
His goal might have been a boon to the Penguins’ mentality in more than one way. It ended the chance of a shutout, always a morale-crusher, and it gave Crosby a goal, something he hasn’t had since his two-goal performance in the first game of the series against the Capitals. That could be a boost to the Penguins’ strongest forward in a series where the offense has been held to just one goal per game.
3) Murray is Still Good
If we write this game off as a loss, which the Penguins seemed to in the first fifteen minutes, then it presented a good opportunity for goaltender Matt Murray to get some practice in. Although he was the goaltender the Penguins leaned on most during the regular season, he was injured just before the start of the playoffs and hasn’t played in goal for almost a month. This game was a good chance for him to warm up to playing again so that he’s not completely cold if called upon to replace Marc-Andre Fleury in net in the future.
Also, turns out he’s still good, so that’s nice to see. He stopped 19 of 20 shots and made some impressive saves.
4) Low Shot Disparity
Think fondly back to the last round. Remember how the Penguins were being outshot by huge margins every single game? Good times. That isn’t the case anymore. The Senators did edge out the Penguins in shots, but not by a significant margin. The final total was 29 shots to 26, with the Senators having a slight advantage. The Senators aren’t able to completely limit the Penguins’ offense, and any indication that the Penguins are playing better than they did for the majority of the second round is a good sign.
5) The Senators Are Still the Best Opponent the Penguins Could Have Asked For
This is weird to say after a blowout loss, I know. But the Penguins are playing with a shell of a defensive unit. The problem for many of their defenders might not be that they’re playing badly but that they’re punching above their weight.
The loss of Kris Letang has never hurt more than it does right now. With Justin Schultz injured, Trevor Daley newly returned and Brian Dumoulin almost certainly playing hurt, the defensive corps is struggling. They’re introducing to the mix players like Chad Ruhwedel, who has limited NHL experience, and Mark Streit, who hasn’t played with the Penguins in a month. Playing with seven defenders last night also meant that pairings were constantly changing. Miscommunication happened. Players were hesitant.
But here’s where the silver lining comes in: the Senators are not an offensively-based team. Their 1-3-1 system puts all the emphasis on their defense. The players who stepped up last night were not offensive stars. Marc Methot, of Crosby finger-slashing fame, had two points last night, including a goal; the goal was his first not only of the playoffs but of the entire regular season.
The Penguins have a monstrous offensive lineup, featuring stars like Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel. But they don’t have much to speak of on defense. They’re lucky not to be facing an offensively-minded team by which their defense could be picked apart every single game.
Due to their defensive focus, the Senators allowed a Game 2 loss by barely testing the Penguins’ defense for a good forty minutes. Because of this, the Penguins have the chance to tie up the series on Friday. This is a blessing. They likely wouldn’t have that chance if they were facing offensive juggernauts like the ones they boast on their roster.
All Hope is Not Lost
I mean, yes, a lot of hope is lost. But not all of it. Worries linger. The Penguins have been limited to only one goal in each of the past three games. The Senators, with a less impressive offensive lineup, have scored a total of seven. But the Penguins love the word resilience, and they love bouncing back. They showed it after a Game 6 blowout against the Capitals. They’re going have to show it again on Friday.