The Pittsburgh Penguins cannot win their Eastern Conference Final matchup against the Boston Bruins if their offense, specifically Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, doesn't capitalize on high-quality scoring chances.
Pittsburgh's vaunted offense, which leads the playoffs in goals scored (47) and on the power play (13), was completely shut down in its 3-0 loss to the Bruins in Saturday's Game 1. It was the first time that the Penguins have been shut out since Feb. 1, 2012 (96 straight games, including playoffs).
The Penguins have allowed 2.58 goals per game during the postseason, the most of the four conference finalists. Since the 2000-01 season, only two of the last 11 Stanley Cup champions finished the playoffs with a GAA above 2.40.
This team's goaltending and defensive play are not going to carry it to another championship. The Penguins need to score three or four goals almost every game, which is a tough challenge against a Bruins club that has a deep, talented blue line and an elite goaltender in Tuukka Rask.
Let's take a deeper look at where the Penguins offense struggled in their series-opening loss.
Top Stars Made No Impact Offensively
Pittsburgh has eight players who have tallied nine or more points in the playoffs, but none of those players made an impact on the scoresheet in Game 1.
James Neal, Malkin and Crosby, who are the Penguins' three most skilled forwards, combined for zero points, nine PIM, a minus-five rating and four missed shots. Malkin and Crosby have gone scoreless in the same game on two occasions in this year's playoffs, and the Penguins are 0-2 when that's happened .
Crosby was also ineffective against the Bruins' top shutdown defenseman, Zdeno Chara, and reigning Frank J. Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron.
Per TSN's stats guy:
Veteran forward Jarome Iginla also played poorly in the series opener. He had a minus-two rating, no points, only one shot on goal and just 13:53 of ice time.
Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang failed to contribute offensively, registering one shot on goal, a minus-two rating and a lack of aggressiveness in the attacking zone.
The Penguins are the only team left in the postseason who cannot rely on the strength of their defense and goaltending to win games when the offense struggles.
A lack of offensive production from players such as Crosby and Malkin will put the Penguins at a distinct disadvantage against a Bruins team that has a structured defensive system, a couple of shutdown defensemen and a group of forwards who are responsible defensively.
The Penguins power play has been almost unstoppable at times in the playoffs, but it was 0-of-4 on Saturday.
During a first-period power play, Crosby and Malkin both failed to beat Rask on back-to-back opportunities from inside 15 feet. The Bruins are an aggressive penalty-killing team who like to put pressure on the opposing players at the point. This strategy frustrated the Penguins and resulted in them moving the puck slower and less accurate than what we are normally accustomed to seeing.
The best players have to produce at this stage of the playoffs. The Bruins' top line was involved in all three of their goals in Game 1, while the Penguins' top six was scoreless and struggled defensively.
Pittsburgh needs a much better performance from its superstar forwards, or Boston will win Monday night's Game 2.
Penguins Lost Their Composure
Game 1 looked a lot like the Penguins' Game 6 loss to the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of last year's playoffs that ended their season.
Crosby was complaining to the referees all night and spent four minutes in the penalty box, which was two times the amount he racked up in his previous 11 playoff games. He talked about the officiating after the game, per Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Twitter):
They're letting a lot go out there, and the more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate. You can only control and channel that stuff so much. You keep letting guys do that stuff, you’re just going to push the envelope.
That’s something we obviously want to stay away from, but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that. It was just hard to gauge. Interference calls where you barely catch a guy, and then you’re allowing punches to the head. Are we going to play, or are we going to call those little things once in a while?
It’s hard to get a temperature on the game when that stuff is going on. Then you let a few of those go and everything starts getting out of hand. We’ve just got to focus on playing.
The Penguins captain was also a minus-two, which hasn't happened in a playoff game since the aforementioned Game 6 versus the Flyers.
As a team, Pittsburgh took too many dumb penalties, participated in an excess amount of extracurricular activities after whistles and tried to play a physical game with the Bruins, which is a losing strategy for nearly every team in the NHL.
The Bruins were quite successful at frustrating Pittsburgh all night, and for the Penguins to win this series, they have to keep calm in these situations. Losing focus and trying to prove their toughness is a recipe for disaster.
Malkin's fight with Patrice Bergeron after the second-period horn sounded, which took him off the ice for the first five minutes of the third period with his team trailing, was not a smart decision.
Spending too much time in the penalty box, especially when Crosby and Malkin sit in there for nine total minutes, prevents the Penguins from getting into a rhythm offensively. Pittsburgh must not worry about the officiating or Boston's after-the-whistle distractions.
Tuukka Rask Was Brilliant for 60 Minutes
Let's give credit where credit is due: Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was phenomenal in Game 1 to earn the first shutout of his playoff career.
Rask only made 29 saves, but many of them happened with lots of traffic in and around his crease and when the Bruins were on the penalty kill.
The 26-year-old netminder improved his GAA to 2.06, his save percentage to .933 and responded to the pressure in his first conference final start. He was well positioned, looked comfortable in net, didn't make any foolish puck-handling mistakes and instilled confidence in his teammates with consistently strong play.
The Penguins also helped Rask by firing too many shots at him on ice level. To beat Rask, the puck has to be shot up high, specifically glove side, and Pittsburgh did not make this a part of its game plan on Saturday.
The Bruins had an advantage in the goaltending matchup prior to this series, and that was evident in Game 1. If Rask continues to outplay Penguins starter Tomas Vokoun, this series will not last more than five or six games.
Faceoffs Were a Problem for Pittsburgh
The Penguins are unable to gain possession of the puck and start their rush up ice when they lose faceoffs consistently, and this was a major problem area for them in Game 1.
The Bruins won twice as many faceoffs (32-16) as Pittsburgh, which was a huge reason why their penalty kill was able to stop all four of the Penguins power plays from scoring.
Here are some individual faceoff stats from Saturday night (all players who took six or more draws):
|Patrice Bergeron (BOS)||10||6|
|Chris Kelly (BOS)||9||3|
|David Krejci (BOS)||5||1|
|Sidney Crosby (PIT)||6||11|
|Evgeni Malkin (PIT)||1||5|
|Brandon Sutter (PIT)||3||7|
|Jussi Jokinen (PIT)||6||4|
The Penguins are in a lot of trouble with percentages like that.
Pittsburgh wants to play a fast-paced, high-scoring kind of game against Boston because of its superior offensive skill and speed. But when the Bruins win the faceoff battle, they slow the game down and prevent the opponent from hurting them in transition.
Bergeron was the top faceoff man in the NHL during the regular season (won a league-leading 62.1 of his draws), and his matchup with Crosby in this area of the game will be one to watch moving forward. Crosby has improved in the faceoff circle since his rookie season, but it's still the weakest part of his extraordinary skill set.
The Bruins lead the postseason in faceoff percentage (58.0), and they also led the league in this category during the regular season. The Penguins have won 49 percent of their faceoffs in the playoffs, which ranks third among the remaining teams.
If Pittsburgh fails to win more draws in Game 2, there's a strong chance that it will travel to Boston for Game 3 facing a 2-0 series deficit.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.