You could probably watch a couple hundred NHL games before you saw a team get 12 shots or less in any one game. I’m sure you would watch thousands of games before you saw one where a team got 12 shots or less and scored at least 5 goals. However, that’s what the Pittsburgh Penguins did to the Nashville Predators on Monday night as the Pens jumped out to a 1-0 series lead with a 5-3 win on just a dozen shots.
Going 5 for 12 would be a pretty good shooting percentage in the NBA for an individual player, especially if there’s a couple three-pointers mixed in. But in the NHL such a statistic is unheard of. What makes the 5 goals on 12 shots all the more enigmatic is that Pittsburgh ran the goals up against what has otherwise been a very stellar Nashville defense.
Pekka Rinne entered the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals as the saves-percentage leader for the playoffs. However, he exited the game in second place behind Jake Allen, the St. Louis Blues’ goaltender who will remain at .935 forever after a second-round exit to these same Predators. The result of game one consolidates Pittsburgh’s status as Cup favorites. They have some problems to work on, but at least they are doing so with a win in their back pocket. However, if you are the Nashville Predators what do you take away from game one?
On the positive side, the Penguins were stifled on offense for a huge stretch of the game. At one point they went a full 37 minutes without tallying even a single shot. That’s a huge takeaway for the Predators as they have to like their defensive systems. The game also saw Nashville make a huge comeback as they trailed 3-0 after the first period. They mounted a comeback to tie the game before giving up two goals in the last five minutes of play.
Pittsburgh received goals from Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary, Nick Bonino (x2), and Jake Guentzel. Arguably Malkin scoring a goal and Pittsburgh winning the game makes the Russian all-the-more stronger of a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy. After all, the award typically goes to the best player on the winning team (sometimes a player on a losing team gets it) and Malkin is the playoffs’ leading scorer still. With Pittsburgh up 1-0 in the series, their status as favorite has strengthened and the stars seem to be lining up for what would be the Russian’s second Conn Smythe.
That said, Nashville might just shrug off the strange game. Teams on the road want a split through two games, and the Predators can still get that. It’s not every night that you’ll yield 5 goals on 12 shots and Nashville have to think that if they duplicate their efforts, then the anomaly of game one won’t repeat itself. If they keep the Penguins stifled then things should go back to normal: a team with 12 shots will get two goals at most if they are lucky.
Game two of the series will be played in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (8 pm ET) as the Predators look to answer back and to steal home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series. If they do that, then they would be well positioned to put a major scare into the Pens in this year’s Cup finals.