NASHVILLE – There’s a moment when a few unproductive power plays morph into a legitimate drought. It’s at that moment when teams start to spend significantly more time analyzing and honing their special teams during practices.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are at such a moment.
“Today, we worked on it quite a bit,” said forward Conor Sheary, after their practice at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday. “But it’s good. You get to touch it a little bit more. You get to face a mock penalty kill that’s similar to what they’re trying to do.”
The Penguins are 2-for-17 since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, and 1-for-13 against the Nashville Predators. That included an 0-for-3 night in Game 3 on Saturday night, including two first-period power plays that were killed to help slowly swing the momentum Nashville’s way.
There’s almost an unfair expectation at times for the Penguins on the man advantage, given that they can skate out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on the same unit. But through three games, they’re not clicking, while the Predators have scored four times in 10 chances.
“It’s the little things,” said Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, one of their primary penalty killers. “Blocking shots. Getting in shot lanes. Pressuring them on entries. Winning puck battles. Goaltending. We’ve gotten those things so far, but it’s a long series.”
Zone entries were one point of emphasis in Sunday’s practice.
“They come with a lot of pressure. They make you make quick decisions with the puck, and sometimes that can difficult. Especially on a break-in. They pressure you right away and you can’t make a play off the entry,” said Sheary.
Crosby said the pressure the Predators’ penalty kill applies means the Penguins can’t even generate momentum out of an unproductive two minutes, like they sometimes can against other teams.
“Sometimes against other penalty kills you can feel pretty good. You might not get a lot accomplished, but you’re still whipping the puck around and you feel pretty good. That’s probably not going to be the case with these guys,” Crosby said.
“We’ve gotta make sure that when we see an opening, that we execute. We’re going to get a chance, but it’s not going to be one where we able to spend a minute throwing the puck around and waiting to pick them apart. That’s not the style they play. So we have to execute.”
The Predators have gained some confidence as they series has continued. They thoroughly believed that they lost the first two games of the series due to a few minutes of bad hockey, surrounded by quality play. They believe at their best, they can beat the Penguins. And a lackluster power play from Pittsburgh isn’t shaking that confidence.
“It’s not anything they haven’t seen before. But obviously we haven’t had the success in this particular series,” said coach Mike Sullivan on the Predators’ penalty kill. “But we believe these guys are capable.”
Subban believes that too.
“It’s a championship team. They’re going to make adjustments,” he said.
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