Pens' barrage of shots producing results
Their coach calls it playing the right way. Their opponents consider it a game of playing keep away. Either way, the Penguins have placed their Stanley Cup playoff fate in the hands of this directive: Fire away.
The Penguins boast an 11-game streak of outshooting their opponents heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:30 tonight at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.
The Penguins own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, thanks in part to a blistering barrage of 35.6 shots a game that is accounting for 3.81 goals a game in that span.
"That's why we do it," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "Whether it's the goalie or the team, hopefully, we're going to wear teams down that way. When a goalie is facing that many shots, you're going to get rebounds that hopefully go your way, and you're going to get breaks.
"When you can do that, the better chance you give yourself."
Since losing back-to-back games to Philadelphia in the first round — including a 3-1 Game 4 loss in which the Flyers held a 46-26 edge in shots — the Penguins have taken 30 or more shots in nine of their past 11 games. They are 3-1 when taking 40-plus, with the defeat a 4-3 overtime loss to Washington in Game 6 of the conference semifinal.
That includes the 7-4 victory over Carolina on Thursday at Mellon Arena. The Penguins fired 42 shots at goalie Cam Ward, who was previously undefeated in five Game 2s with a 1.18 goals-against average and .956 save percentage yet allowed four goals in the first two periods.
The Hurricanes, however, attribute Ward's wobbly play not to the Penguins' penchant for punching it in the net but deficiencies in their own zone.
"We've got to be better defensively in front of them," Carolina center Eric Staal said. "I think just keeping more shots on to the outside and less of those prime scoring areas. If we do that, he'll have a good chance of making those saves."
To do that, Carolina will have to slow down the NHL's Nos. 1 and 2 playoff scorers in Evgeni Malkin (10 goals, 25 points) and Crosby (13 goals, 24 points), who have combined for 20 shots and nine points in the series' first two games.
"We've had some breakdowns on our end, and they're just too good," Hurricanes center and captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "They've got tremendous talent. If given those opportunities, they're going to bury it. We're just going to have to be better."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma believes that the scoring surge is not so much a result of taking a high quantity of shots but by playing a style of hockey best suited to the postseason. Bylsma wants the Penguins to control the puck in their offensive zone and crash the crease so as to score on multiple chances.
For example, Crosby got the game's first goal just inches from the net. Malkin provided the Penguins' second tally on a rebound. That opened up the ice for plays such as Max Talbot's second-period breakaway and Malkin's circling behind the net for a blind backhand in the third.
"We don't start off by saying we want to outshoot the other team," Bylsma said. "We have an idea of where we want to play and how we want to play the game, and if we play well, we end up in the offensive zone more. Shots to the net, pucks to the net, bodies to the net, is the recipe for any goalie."
And keeping the puck away from foes is another ingredient for winning playoff games on the road.
"It's about trying to play the right way, so you can continue to get pucks into the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "That's a great way to take crowds out of it."