The two points the Penguins stole from the defending-Stanley Cup champions have the potential to be game-changing provided the Pens can embrace how they stole them, by resisting their nature.
Tuesday night’s come-from-behind, 2-1 overtime win over Colorado was multi-faceted. It required heroic goaltending from Casey DeSmith, resolute penalty-killing, including two minutes’ worth in the extra session, and an overall resiliency during most of the first two periods, when the Avs were skating rings around the Penguins and dominating.
But what got the Penguins over the hump more than anything else was their willingness, as all else was failing offensively, to simply get pucks to or toward the net in an effort to see what might happen from there.
They didn’t get frustrated and try to make the perfect play.
They didn’t try to pass the puck into the net.
They shot, retrieved and repeated as necessary.
It took a while, but it was worth the wait.
And being rewarded for the effort has a chance to resonate if the Penguins will accept the cause-effect relationship the approach had on the eventual outcome.
The Pens attempted 41 shots in the third period and the 3:36 of overtime, three more than they had managed in the first two periods combined.
The game-tying goal that deflected off Bryan Rust resulted from Evgeni Malkin simply shoving the puck toward the crease from behind the goal line.
The game-winning goal was a product of taking of three shots in rapid succession.
It was what head coach Mike Sullivan often has in mind when the Pens are in a battle and the goals are tough to come by, what Sullivan has talked about often with his team and with the media.
“We talk with our guys a lot about simplifying the game,” Sullivan emphasized afterward. “In my mind noting breaks coverage down better than a shot on goal, it forces decision-making. If there’s any hesitation or if there’s duplication of jobs (on the part of those defending), opportunity presents itself. I think part of our DNA as a group is we’re always looking for a better play sometimes. I think the play-making aspect of some of our higher-end players, they’re very selective. We’re trying to encourage them to maybe adopt a modified game. You know, every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to put a puck at the net and then create off of it.
“As talented as these guys are, there’s always that fine line because we don’t want to over-coach that and get in the way of their instincts because that’s what makes them what they are and as good as they are, they’re elite players. But we’re trying to encourage them to simplify the game in certain situations and put more pucks in play, so to speak. A lot of times, if you don’t score on that first one you’re creating a next-play opportunity. And that’s when I think our guys do their best work.”
To Sullivan, that’s Hockey 101 but it’s never been an easy sell to this bunch.
Kris Letang confirmed that after beating the Avs.
“Obviously, we have a lot of talented players,” he maintained. It’s tough sometimes to tell them what to do. They see things a lot of people don’t see.
“But sometimes when you’re not able to generate offense you want to simplify. You want to put the puck at the net, you’re predictable for your teammates. Sometimes, it’s good.”
More times than these Penguins have traditionally realized.
It’s time that changed.
It will if they grasp the value of what they applied late against the Avalanche. That the “DNA” isn’t what it used to be. That their “higher-end players” aren’t as high end or as “talented” as they used to be relative to everyone else (Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon was the elite guy on the ice on Tuesday night, and there wasn’t a close second).
If they do, they might more consistently survive games such as Tuesday night’s, a “playoff-style hockey game,” in Josh Archibald’s estimation.
The Pens are going to find themselves in plenty more of those long before the playoffs.
What happened against the Avalanche provided a blueprint for how those will have to be navigated.
Repeat as necessary