Penguins coach Mike Sullivan tried not to say too much about Tampa Bay’s speed and transition abilities ahead of the Eastern Conference Final’s opener. He called them a good team with a comparable style of play and described defenseman Victor Hedman as “elite,” but he kept more substantive thoughts to himself.
After the Lightning claimed Game 1, 3-1, Sullivan offered much better analysis of what challenges Hedman and company present and why the Penguins failed to prevail.
“They have good support mechanisms in place when somebody gets beat. I thought we generated a fair amount of chances. We’ve got to find a way to convert.”
“I don’t think they saw our best today. I know this team has set a high standard for their play. I don’t think it was our best game, and that’s what we need in order to have success at this point in the season. We had stretches of some really good things. There are a lot of positives that we can pull out of this. We’ve got to do a better job of managing the puck and then being on the right side of certain puck battles. I don’t think we gave up a lot of chances, but the quality of the chances that we gave up were high. And that’s what we discussed with our players after the game. We’ve got to make better decisions with the puck in some of the key areas of the rink. I thought we had opportunities when we had the puck in the high ice in the offensive zone where we didn’t have a lot of ice to play on and where we could’ve put it down below the goal line and gone back to work. Tampa has a very good transition game. We knew that going in. We’ve got to make sure that we’re diligent with our decisions with the puck, and in those 50-50 battles, we’ve got to stay above people and stay on the right side so we don’t allow some of the odd-man rushes. I think if we cut the quality of the chance down, it gives us a better chance to win.”
“Tampa does a good job of when there’s any separation from our forecheck, they stretch the ice pretty well, so our defensemen have to be aware and make sure that we stay on the right side of people. It’s start with an awareness, but it goes beyond that to simply getting it done.”
Data tracked by @Tempofreehockey supported Sullivan’s conclusion about how the Penguins handled the puck in their offensive zone.
Pittsburgh – Tampa Bay
5v5 Tracked Turnovers by Zone Through 3 Periods pic.twitter.com/1PNhSBZTum
— tempofreehockey (@TempoFreeHockey) May 14, 2016
In closing, here’s a quick survey of the locker room for quotes regarding the Penguins’ inability to turn a decent amount of possession into goals tonight:
“We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to. I didn’t think we were patient with the puck in their end. We threw pucks to the middle and made it easy on them getting out of their end. For us, all along, a big key has been managing the puck, being smart with the puck, making teams work to get it off you.”
“We need to be better, just understanding how they play, what it looks like. We’ve got a better feel for that. When it’s all said and done here, we’ve got another level we’ve got to get to.”
“Maybe we need to play a little bit quicker in the D zone and hold pucks when we go forward.”
“We have to find a way to grind and play a little more dirty.”
“A lot of big guys. They block a lot of shots. Not just their D. Their forwards do too. Their D have a long reach and they move pretty well for being that big. We knew that coming in. That was part of the pre-scout. I think we can do a better job of exposing those guys, making them turn and trying to work them down low, because when we did, we had chances.”
“They played well. They came back. You saw a lot of forwards on their team that aren’t traditionally shot blockers or checking forwards diving in front of shots, blocking shots. They knew they had to play really strong defensively and they did that. We didn’t obviously capitalize on enough chances. That’s certainly going to be a focus going forward.”