Most of Pittsburgh’s big-minute players – guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, among others – didn’t go on the ice for an optional game-day skate at Joe Louis Arena Sunday morning.
Instead, they rode stationary bikes, kicked a soccer ball around in a corridor outside the dressing room or, in the case of defenceman Kris Letang, stickhandled a tennis ball through the locker room.
They certainly did not act like members of the team that’s allowing the pressure of being down 1-0 in the Stanley Cup final heading into Game 2 tonight at Joe Louis Arena to get to them.
“It’s business as usual, and that would be a usual locker room for us [when there’s an optional practice],” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I’m not reading too much into it.
“If you would see something different than when we normally are, then I would read into it. But that’s what guys would normally be like on a day like that.”
The Penguins’ even-keeled temperament is a reflection of the way Bylsma goes about his job. He rarely, if ever, displays emotion on the bench, and takes a clinical approach to his duties.
Consequently, he won’t be delivering a "Win-one-for-the-Gipper" speech to his players before they go onto the ice for the first period tonight.
“You can go into this game saying it’s a must-win, but that’s not the focus your team needs to have to have success,” Bylsma said after the game-day skate.
“We’re certainly looking to come into tonight’s game and win it, but more importantly, [is] how we play and how the game plays out.
“We want to play at our pace, get to the offensive zone. If we can do that, we’ll [accept] the outcome. If we can put the Red Wings back on their heels, force them to play defence more, if we can play in the offensive zone more, we’ll take the outcome.”
Experience comes handy
The Penguins lost the first two games of the 2008 Stanley Cup final at the Joe, putting them in a hole from which they could not escape en route to losing the series in six games.
Dropping the opener 3-1 on Saturday night could prove to be the first step toward a repeat, although Pittsburgh obviously will be intent on avoiding that.
Should the Wings win Game 2, however, the Penguins insist they are better equipped to cope with that kind of adversity than they were 12 months ago.
“Even if it does happen, I think we’ll have a much different atmosphere in the locker room,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
One thing they can’t afford to do should that happen, right winger Tyler Kennedy said, is to stray from the style that helped them to reach the Cup final for the second year in a row.
"If we do get down 2-0 … we want to stick to our game and just keep playing Penguins hockey,” he said. “Get to our game and stick to it.”
After losing 39 of 55 faceoffs during Game 1, getting better results on draws will be one of the priorities for Pittsburgh during Game 2.
The Penguins acknowledge that Detroit is an excellent faceoff team, but believe they can win more than the 29 percent they controlled in the opener, especially if their wingers and defensemen get involved in trying to gain possession of the “50-50 pucks” that result when neither side cleanly wins the draw.
“Wingers can always help out,” said centre Jordan Staal, who was 6-for-19 in the opener. “There are always a lot of battles around the draws that could go either way.”
Detroit has a built-in advantage on faceoffs at Joe Louis because the home player doesn’t have to line up for the draw until the visitor does. That edge obviously swings to Pittsburgh when the series shifts to Mellon Arena.
But Staal didn’t believe the Red Wings did a significant amount of “cheating” to help run up their faceoffs edge.
“I didn’t notice that too much,” he said. “The odd time here and there, but everyone does it.”
Game 2 will mark the first time since 1955 that teams have met on consecutive days during a Cup final.
The Penguins do not, in general, seem pleased about that, although they realize it benefit them somewhat because of the injuries that apparently will prevent Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper for dressing for the second time in the series.
At the very least, they are aware that it shouldn’t be any more of a problem for them than it will be for Detroit.
“It’s odd to see it in the playoffs, especially in the final, but it’s the same for both teams,” defenseman Mark Eaton said. “It’s really nothing to complain about. As long as it’s even for both teams, what are you going to say?”
The real effect of the compressed schedule might not be felt until Tuesday, when the teams will meet in Game 3 at Mellon Arena, making it the third game in four days.
“That’s a lot of hockey in a short period of time,” Bylsma said.
Officiating solid in Game 1
Losing teams don’t often have much good to say about the officials, but the Penguins had no complaints with the work of Paul Devorski and Dennis LaRue during Game 1, as Pittsburgh was awarded two power plays and the Red Wings one.
Scuderi said, “I thought they let more go than a regular season game,” but made it clear he didn’t have a problem with that.
“Let it be a rodeo,” Scuderi said. “As long as it’s even for both teams, I don’t really care. I think most guys would say the same thing. They want the game called consistently for both teams.
“If they’re going to let a lot go, as long as they let it go for both teams, I don’t think many guys are going to have a problem with that.”
Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had an opener to forget, allowing two goals because he had trouble dealing with pucks coming off the active boards at Joe Louis, but his teammates don’t seem concerned that he’ll have another off-night this evening.
Precedent suggests they have a point, because Fleury has not had two sub-par games in a row this spring.
“Watch him tonight, how good he is,” Kennedy said. “He’s a world-class goalie, and he’s bounced back before. It should be no different tonight.”
Rookie coaching accolades
Bylsma is trying to become the 14th coach to win a Stanley Cup in his first year behind the bench, and just the second to do it after being a mid-season replacement. The other was Al MacNeil, who replaced Claude Ruel in Montreal during the 1970-71 season.
The Penguins went 18-3-4 after Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach Feb. 15, and are 12-6 in these playoffs heading into Game 2.
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