Special teams key Penguins' Game 1 victory over Senators
Paul MacLean called it the difference in Game 1.
Actually, the Ottawa Senators coach could have been talking about the Stanley Cup playoffs so far.
The Penguins' special teams — 2 for 4 on the power play, 5 for 5 on the penalty kill — led them to a 4-1 victory over the Senators on Tuesday night for a 1-0 lead in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The best-of-seven series resumes with Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Friday.
“We only took three minor penalties in the game, and they took advantage of two of them, and that's a credit to them,” MacLean said, noting a Penguins power play that is clicking at 36 percent (9 of 25) in the playoffs.
“So, obviously, you can't give them any power-play opportunities.”
The Senators, like the New York Islanders before them in Round 1, also failed to take advantage of opportunities on their power plays.
They generated only seven shots on five man-advantage chances.
Winger Pascal Dupuis' goal on a critical third-period penalty kill was the icing on a special cake.
The key ingredient is confidence, Penguins players said.
That is especially applicable to a penalty kill that has stymied opponents on 23 of 25 chances in the playoffs — a 92-percent rate that is another galaxy from the 47.8 percent in a Round 1 loss to Philadelphia last postseason.
The Penguins were 25th of 30 clubs with a 79.6 percent penalty kill during the regular season.
So, turning these playoffs into the NHL's version of “The Killing” probably was not an expectation.
“It was one of our big focuses going into the playoffs,” defenseman Douglas Murray said. “I've never looked at the stats, but I'm sure whoever wins (the Cup) usually has one of the best penalty kills.”
Los Angeles won the Cup on the strength of a 92.1-percent penalty kill, tied for first in the playoffs, last spring.
Boston was sixth in the playoffs at 84.4 percent the year before, with champion Chicago fourth at 83.3 percent the playoffs before.
The Penguins have not won the Stanley Cup since 2009, when they placed fifth at 83.3 percent on the penalty kill.
In first-round losses the last two postseasons, the Penguins went a combined 60 percent on the penalty kill (30 of 50).
Coach Dan Bylsma spent all of last summer studying the techniques used by successful clubs — notably Los Angeles and New Jersey — with the idea of using the regular season to build a penalty kill that could thrive in the playoffs.
So far, his plan is working — in one specific way, defenseman Paul Martin said.
“We're being aggressive,” Martin said. “There are pucks we're getting to first, and we're not giving (opponents) too many second opportunities.”
The Penguins have needed their special teams' success because before this game they had struggled to dominate 5 on 5 with only a plus-4 goal differential.
“I don't think 5 on 5 we out-chanced the Islanders,” Bylsma said. “(Tuesday), especially in the first period, we were way more where we need to be and how we need to play.”
That turned into power-play goals by Martin and left winger Chris Kunitz.
Center Evgeni Malkin added one at even strength and, with an assist, built his postseason point total to 13 in seven games, a 1.86 average.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun, making his third consecutive start, stopped 35 shots.
All of that mattered, but the special teams mattered most against the Senators in Game 1.
That kind of sustained success will kill a lot of doubt — it existed after the top-seeded Penguins needed six games to oust the New York Islanders in Round 1 — that this is truly, as Penguins players believe, a “special team.”