COLUMN: Penguins Haven’t Passed the Eye Test

We’re very close to game four’s puck drop, so I’ll keep this quick so you can still get your dinner ready, ordered, or eaten, your alcohol ready (hopefully for good reason), or whatever else you may want to do. Say your prayers, eat your vitamins, blah blah blah. I’m in the minority here and really the whole point here is to make people aware of something I’ve seen that most other people haven’t: the Penguins haven’t passed the eye test so far in the Final.

Now, before you go name calling or take a screenshot of this column to tweet out how awful my takes are, just open your mind and listen. 

Outside of the 3rd period of game two, the Penguins have either been slightly outplayed or massively outplayed by the Predators. Not only have the Predators outshot the Pens 97-67 in the first three games, but if it weren’t for Pekka Rinne playing really, really bad in the first two games, Pittsburgh might not have a lead in this series, or a win for that matter. 

That third period in game two was something special to watch. The Pens outhustled Nashville to loose pucks, took advantage of the aggressive play by Nashville defensemen to create odd-man rushes, and made their shots on Rinne count. Jake Guentzel has been fabulous finishing in front of the net so far. 

Just about everything else has been lackluster. If I have to make a case for why the Pens shouldn’t have won game one, you might need to rely on that old thing called the “eye test.” Outside of Nashville’s stupid back-to-back penalties in the first period, they dominated play. They won every puck battle and were a step faster all over the ice. 

Game two was more evenly played, but Nashville peppered Matt Murray, and if it weren’t for him standing tall in net, the Pens’ flurry in the third period would’ve been in desperation to tie, not runaway with the game. 

Game three started great. The first 10 minutes were pretty good, building off of the momentum from the end of game two. The momentum swung hard though, and Nashville dominated play again for the majority of the rest of the game, pounding the Pens 5-1. 

Overall, this just isn’t a 2-1 series lead that I can be confident in. The Penguins continue to have issues on the breakout, and at time, have zero transition game (we miss you so much Kris Letang), and Nashville just looks like the better team. Take the goggles off and watch who’s play dictates the pace of the game and which way the ice tilts. Trust your eyes, and don’t let your head or heart get in the way what’s really happened so far.

Now, the last three games are in the past. Mike Sullivan’s Penguins typically bounce back after bad performances and Murray doesn’t lose consecutive games very often. Those intangibles give me confidence going forward, but the tangibles tell me the Penguins should be thankful they have a 2-1 lead right now, and at this stage of the season, they are. Take a 2-1 lead however you can get it, but the play has to get better. Saying it’s impossible for Nashville to win 4 out of 5 is irresponsible and inaccurate. If anything, the play of the series so far tells you it’s very possible.

Here’s to the Penguins turning it around and giving the Nashville fans only county music to cheer about.

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