Photo: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire
Shots on goal were the headline in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals as the Penguins were out shot decisively 26 to 12, but still managed to escape with a victory.
The span of 37 minutes between Penguin shots was the focal point of the shot differential but on a play-by-play basis, the Predators only led the Penguins by a narrow margin of 12%.
Even more surprising, Pittsburgh moved the puck with 45% better proficiency and with 34% less risk in the game, but little of that offense was created inside Nashville’s blue line once the Penguins established a 3-0 lead.
The first of those three goals was the result of two undisciplined Nashville penalties followed by a Malkin one timer on a 5 on 3 power play to get the Penguins started. Then Kunitz made an all-world pass to Sheary for a 2-0 lead, and the wave of momentum continued with a very lucky bounce off the stick of Bonino to push it to 3-0.
With a three goal lead, Penguin puck management became ultra conservative to ensure the Predators received no help in creating offense. As a result, the Penguins had 38% fewer (weighted) turnovers in game one than their 2017 playoff average. Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey summed up the game well, “We got the lead and didn’t generate much. Period. The end.”
Despite the Penguins reliable puck management, their defensive performance was 36% below their playoff average which allowed the Predators to claw back into the game, forcing the Penguin’s Jake Guentzel to make an exceptional shot off the rush and net the game winner late in the third.
The Penguins were no where near as bad as the shot totals suggest, but their early lead and conservative approach robbed the game of the offensive push and risk taking that makes for entertaining hockey. Fingers crossed for a higher tempo game two.
Worth noting, the Pittsburgh forwards actually out contributed the Predator forwards by a margin of 14%, but the high powered Nashville blue line contributed 84% more than the Pittsburgh defensemen.
1. Nick Bonino scored two goals on route to leading the Penguin forwards in overall contributions. His goals were a bit fortuitous but his defensive contributions in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals were double his average in the Ottawa series.
2. Jake Guentzel made a very timely contribution on the game winning goal late in the third to bail the penguins out after they blew a two goal lead.
3. Evgeni Malkin, 4. Sidney Crosby and 5. Conor Sheary had similar contributions but the threesome were the weakest Penguin forwards defensively.
1. Trevor Daley has made it hard to imagine how he did not thrive in Chicago, because he has been great on both sides of the puck in the playoffs. His game one performance was second among all Defensemen, trailing only Josi.
2. Brian Dumoulin’s defensive contributions were in line with his average in game one but his offensive contributions were six times his usual level.
3. Justin Shultz performed below his regular season average in game one but improved over his game seven performance against the Senators. So long as he can continue to solidify things defensively after missing time due to injury, he can help replace Letang and make those great offensive plays that can change games.
1. Colton Scissons led all forwards offensively in game one and all forwards in overall contribution.
2. Filip Forsberg and 3. Mike Fisher had similar contributions at about 29% below Scissons and both were defensive stalwarts in game one.
1. Roman Josi contributed over 40% more than any other defenseman in game one and his contributions were balanced similarly between offense and defense.
2. Ryan Ellis edged Josi offensively and led all defensemen in offensive contributions.
3. Matt Irwin and 4. Mattias Ekholm had similar contributions despite Irwin playing less than half the time of Ekholm.
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