Pittsburgh Penguins Down Nashville Predators, Take Game 1 of Stanley Cup Finals

Jan 31, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Despite notching a woeful 12 shots on goal, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 in the first game of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Nashville Predators dominated most of the play, but the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to come out on top.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

High Scoring First Period

Nashville nearly opened the scoring with a PK Subban one-timer, but the goal didn’t stand. Coach Mike Sullivan challenged the goal as offsides, and the goal was overturned.

A few minutes later, the Penguins got a great scoring opportunity. Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were called for interference and cross-checking, respectively, at the same time. The Pens managed to score on their 5-on-3 when Evgeni Malkin hammered a shot past Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

Barely a minute later, Conor Sheary scored off a beautiful feed from ECF game 7 hero Chris Kunitz to make it 2-0 Pens. Then, with less than 30 seconds left in the first, Nick Bonino made it 3-0 when a shot he threw to the middle bounced off Rinne and defenseman Mattias Ekholm before going in.

Nashville Makes a Comeback

As the Pens notched no shots on goal whatsoever in the second period, Nashville scored. Ryan Ellis got a shot past a screened Matt Murray to make it 3-1 with a power play goal.

The Predators got two more goals in the third period to tie the game. The second goal was yet another PPG, this time from Roman Josi. The tying goal was scored  by Frederick Gaudreau.

For most of the game, the Predators dominated the play. They led in faceoffs by a lopsided margin in the first period. The Preds doubled the Pens in shots. Nashville also played strong defense, which was a big part of why the Pens had so few shots.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough, as Jake Guentzel got the game-winning goal off a great wrist shot with less than four minutes left in the third period. Bonino got his second goal of the game with an empty-net goal at 18:58 in the period, all but sealing the deal for the Pens.

Looking Ahead to Game 2

At just 12, the Penguins had the fewest shots in a Stanley Cup Final game since the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. While the Penguins aren’t the only team in NHL history to get a mere dozen shots on goal, they are the only team to win the game with so few shots.

37 minutes went by without a shot on goal for the Penguins—more than half the game. Since the Penguins can hardly expect Rinne to have a save percentage of 0.636 every game, they have to generate more shots. While the Penguins had some sustained offensive zone pressure, they were unable to generate shots. That has to change.

Pittsburgh’s special teams also need to improve. They were 1/3 on the power play, a decent percentage that doesn’t reflect how poor the power plays really were. The Pens had a hard time keeping the zone and of course, couldn’t generate shots. Nashville was 2/3 on the power play—meaning the Pens’ penalty kill was at just 33%. The Penguins need to focus on improving their penalty kill and staying out of the box. Evgeni Malkin’s slashing call, in particular, was a stupid penalty and led to the Predators’ second goal.

Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final will be on Wednesday at 8 PM in Pittsburgh.