Coach’s analysis: Predators have momentum against Penguins in Cup Final

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Doug Lidster to break down the action. Lidster will be checking in throughout the series.

Lidster, 56, was an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-2017. He won the Stanley Cup with the 1994 New York Rangers and the 1999 Dallas Stars during a 16-year NHL career before turning to coaching.

As Doug Lidster noted after Game 2 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators, the Predators were going to put the pressure on early. After all, they were back home at Bridgestone Arena down by two games in the Stanley Cup Final.

 

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That happened, and the Penguins withstood the pressure. 

But after that, things fell apart a bit for the visitors, with the Predators gaining a needed 5-1 win Saturday. Nashville trails the best-of-7 series 2-1. 

“You knew that Nashville was going to come out hard,” Lidster said. “They were desperate and I thought early Pittsburgh did a really good job. They got the early goal and they quieted the crowd. And they had some momentum going. They were doing a pretty good job.”

The Penguins scored first, with rookie forward Jake Guentzel scoring his 13th goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 2:46 of the first period, a quick strike that could have turned the tide for Pittsburgh. Instead, the Predators scored five consecutive goals en route to the win.

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“There were a couple of key moments,” Lidster said. “I thought the first power play was good. They had good puck movement. But their second power play they kind of fumbled it around a little bit and they gave up a two-on-one chance. There are always momentum shifts in any hockey game, especially in playoffs they become even more important, and sometimes with a power play when they haven’t had the results, they’re struggling a little bit, it can lead to momentum shifts.”

And that was what Lidster saw from the Penguins’ second power play after a too many men on the ice infraction at 12:44 of the first period. Suddenly, the Bridgestone Arena crowd was back in the game. Suddenly, it didn’t look like the Penguins would have an easy road to a 3-0 series lead.

That, in fact, was one of the key areas that Lidster saw needed improvement from the Penguins as they head into Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). The power play was one. The penalty kill, which allowed two goals to the Predators on Saturday, was another.

“They’ve got to get their specialty teams going,” Lidster said. “They were 0-fer on the power play and they had two shorthanded goals against, so both the power play and penalty killing have got to be a lot better.”

Another issue for the Penguins, which partially relates back to the penalty killing issues, was the absence of Nick Bonino, who was injured in Game 2 and did not play in Game 3. That was notable, Lidster said. 

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“He provides some key moments there,” Lidster said. “I know they brought in [Carl] Hagelin, but I thought they missed Nick because that gives them a little bit more depth down the middle, especially in the defensive situations. They gave up two power-play goals and he’s a good penalty killer.”

But whether or not Bonino is back, Lidster says the Penguins need to get pucks deep and not turn over the puck as much as they did Saturday. They need to establish themselves in the offensive zone more than they were able to do, using their speed to pressure the Predators defense. 

And they need some work in the defensive zone too.

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“There were too many occasions where Nashville was able to get odd-man rushes on them, a couple of shorthanded, a couple of breakaways there, especially in the second period,” Lidster said. “I just think the second goal, I thought their defensemen probably could have been a little bit more aggressive on it, backed in a little bit, and I think that they just gave a little bit too much time and space, a little bit too wide open hockey for a road game. And they left their goalie out there; they strung him out to dry a little bit.”

That will obviously have to change for Game 4, when the Penguins attempt again to gain a stranglehold on a series the Predators clearly do not want to give up. 

“Game 4 is going to be a key game,” Lidster said. “Momentum is a key shift. Nashville is maybe feeling pretty good about it. They’re going to be going hard again and if the series ties up at [2-2], it’s going to be tough. The pressure is going to be back on Pittsburgh.”

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