Observations from the Penguins' 2-1 overtime win against the Sharks:
When the Penguins initially recalled left winger Conor Sheary in December, he was like most other rookies just dipping their toes in the water. He wanted to make the safe play. He wouldn't necessarily be selfish and take the shot even if it was a clean look. He would get the puck back to the center. And in his case, his center was occasionally the outstanding Sidney Crosby. Why wouldn't you get the shot puck back to Sidney Crosby?
At some point, that changed for Sheary. A 20-goal threat in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Sheary started to gain more and more confidence in his skill set at the NHL level. With a handful of recalls and demotions, he started to take that shot. He started to feel and play like he belonged here.
"I think when he first was called up this year, we put him with Sid right away," said head coach Mike Sullivan. "There was a 'wow' factor with some of the players in the room. My experience of being around this group is when a new player comes to our team, young or old for that matter, I think there's a little bit of a 'wow' factor because some of the players we have. Everybody has so much respect for Crosby and [center Evgeni] Malkin and [defenseman Kris] Letang and those guys."
"Over time I think that wears off. I think that's happened with Conor. "
Right now, he belongs on the stage of the Stanley Cup Final.
Two games. Two beautiful goals. After sniping a puck through traffic for goal in Game 1, he picked his spot off a set play using a screen to give his team a victory in overtime of Game 2.
Sheary's evolution as a player has been representative of this team's evolution over the course of this season.
As a result, Sheary and the Penguins are two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.
The “HBK” line got the game's first goal at 8:20 of the second period. Facing pressure from left winger Carl Hagelin, Sharks defenseman Roman Polak fumbled a puck in his left circle while attempting a 'd-to-d' pass. Right winger Phil Kessel nearly collected the puck in the slot but couldn't get a clean handle on it. As it was, Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon tried to settle the puck in his right circle but lost it on a steal from Hagelin. Hagelin fed the puck to center Nick Bonino streaking down the slot. Bonino fended off Polak and tried to feed a pass to Kessel positioned to the right of the cage. Polak got a stick on the pass and ended up tapping it towards the open crease past the left skate of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. Kessel followed up on the play and buried it for good measure. Assists went to Bonino and Hagelin.
The Sharks finally tied the game with 4:05 left in regulation. Settling a puck at the right half wall, defneseman Justin Braun wound up and chopped a slapper from above the right circle. It sailed through a forest of bodies packed in front of Murray, clunked off the near post and beat Murray on the glove hand near side. Right winger Joel Ward had a marvelous screen in front. Assists went to center Logan Couture and Ward.
As they've done all throughout the playoffs, the Penguins went to work quickly in overtime. With a faceoff in the Sharks' left circle, Crosby beat Ward on the draw and got the puck back to defenseman Kris Letang. Letang settled the puck at the left point, faked a slapper, drew in Sharks center Logan Couture a bit and fed a pass to Sheary in a tight open area above the left circle. Sheary took the pass on his forehand, moved into the left circle, used a screen by Braun and ripped a wrister by the glove hand of Jones on the far side. Assists went to Letang and Crosby.
-Crosby was - in the words of Sullivan - a horse tonight. He drove so much play tonight. The Sharks really seemed to back off way too much anytime Crosby or his linemates, Sheary or right winger Patric Hornqvist led a rush into the offensive zone. On top of that, Crosby, who worked on this in practice yesterday, just owned the faceoff circle tonight. He basically told Letang and Sheary what to do prior to the faceoff win leading to Sheary's goal in overtime. He might not have a big-time goal or highlight in this series, but that doesn't mean Crosby hasn't dominated.
-The "HBK" line of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel did the same thing. They were ultra aggressive on the forecheck and just seemed to run the Sharks ragged in their zone.
-Murray seemed pretty automatic tonight. He wasn't tested a great deal tonight until the third period but he seemed to have sights set on just about any puck which came his way. He's just so reliable and consistent.
-Right winger Bryan Rust was in the lineup after being injured in Game 1 when he was struck in the head by Sharks center Patrick Marleau. Rust said a final decision on him playing was made after warmups. He looked fine. He was aggressive with his skating and didn't seem hesitant to go to any high traffic areas.
-Center Evgeni Malkin looked fine as well for someone who welcomed his first child into the world yesterday.
-The lone blemish on this win was once again the power play. They went 0 for 2 and barely posed a threat.
-On the flip side, the Penguins were pretty dominant on their lone penalty killing sequence. They really didn't allow the Sharks' dominant power play to get the puck and create anything with it. At the start of the third period, the Sharks had 49 seconds of power-play time on fresh ice and the Penguins cleared the puck three times. On one shift, centers Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen forehchecked like demons.
-We're not sure of an exact figure, but both teams hit a number of posts or crossbars tonight. We'd estimate upwards of seven or eight. It was a strange game in that regard.
The Sharks need a greater contribution from their important players. Center Joe Thornton has been very ordinary. Couture has been next to invisible. Marleau has had a few moments but they've been few and far between. Other than Jones and defenseman Brent Burns, this team's franchise players have not offered much.
-Overall, the Sharks have seemed unprepared for the Penguins' speed. They just seem to get caught in the tracks when the Penguins forechecked them. The Sharks are a quick team themselves yet they seem like they have no idea on how to handle what the Penguins are throwing at them.
-The Sharks' third defensive pairing of Polak and Dillon really struggled and the Penguins almost appeared to target them. That duo needs to offer more.
-In order to balance things out a bit, the Sharks flipped Marleau and Ward in the third period. As it was, Ward helped produce their lone goal.
-Jones was very good. Both goals he allowed were hardly soft. He has not been the problem this series.
-The Sharks need to do something about their faceoffs. They entered the game a league-worst 46.8 pecent on draws in the postseason. The Penguins ravaged them again tonight.
-The Sharks inserted left winger Matt Nieto into the lineup after he had missed seven games due to an undisclosed injury. If he was expected to have any significant impact, it was not evident.
-Couture was pretty salty after the game when asked about faceoffs. He was asked what's challenging when facing Crosby on draws:
“He cheats. And he gets away with it. He's Sidney Crosby.”
Couture was asked how Crosby cheats:
“He times them. They don't kick him out for some reason. Probably because of who he is.”
-Hornqvist was asked about Crosby winning that faceoff in overtime:
"I think he won 10 faceoffs on that side and we found a big one in the end. That's what the best players do."
-Teams with an 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final have overwhelmingly been successful in winning the series. Crosby said that doesn't mean anything to how his team plays:
“I don't think our focus changes. We did a good job of playing well here at home. We know it's going to get really challenging and their desperation level is going to really high. I've been in two [Stanley Cup] Finals and been down pretty quickly 0-2. So we know that desperation level is going to be there.”
-Letang knows this series isn't over:
"They're a tough team man. And they're really dangerous. They have so much talent up front. Their [defense] are pretty active. All mobile defenseman. They can skate. Every time you step on the ice. You have a chance to score goals. So you have to be on your game. Focused and making sure you're strong in front of your net.”
-Sheary described his goal:
"Sid came up to me before the draw and told me to line up on the wall. We hadn't really done that before. He said he's going to wing it back and [Letang] is going to find me in the soft area there. Found it pretty perfectly."
-Crosby spoke about Sheary's jump in confidence in terms of shooting the puck compared to his first few days in the NHL:
“Yeah, I would say. Right away, I think that's normal for anybody. They get called up and they want to make sure they're getting the puck to their center. We've talked and tried to get to know the way each other plays. He's really good at hanging on the puck. He's got a great shot. We've seen him use it. I think just his biggest thing is just to trust his instincts. What's worked for him is just playing with confidence when he does well and just trusting it. I think that's the best thing he can do.”
-Sheary was asked a similar question:
"Yeah, I mean, the first time I got on his line he told me I was there for a reason, I was playing with him for a reason, don't look off a shot to make a pass to him. Even though he says that, it's a little hard to get used to. At this point he's just my teammate and he's my line mate. I'm comfortable playing with him. "
-Sullivan also spoke about Sheary's evolution:
"I also think, you know, Sid and some of our older guys, when they spend time with these guys, they've really taken the young players under their wing. They've done a tremendous job just as far as being mentors for them, making them feel comfortable. Just even in the small conversations on the bench, it goes a long way for helping these guys with their next shifts. I've witnessed that all year long with our veteran group, with some of our young players. But I also think with each time that Conor's got called up, I think he has more of a comfort level of what the expectation is and how he has to play in order to be successful. Part of me thinks that's the evolution of young players when they're trying to establish themselves in this league. There's a learning process that players go through. They realize how hard it is, that they've got to bring the same effort and the same performance and the same execution night after night after night. That, I think, is what separates NHL players from the rest of the world, is their ability to continue to bring a consistency of play that comes to be the expectation. I think Conor has learned that. He's not the only one. The young players, I think they all go through that evolution."
-Sullivan talked about the benefit Sheary got out of being a healthy scratch for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning:
"We just felt as a coaching staff he was wearing down a little bit. I'm probably stating the obvious to say he's not an overly big guy. When you're playing every other night, one of the hardest things about winning the Stanley Cup is the journey to get there. You're playing every other night for a long time. It's the most intense hockey all year long. So our coaching staff felt as though he was wearing down a little bit. We talked to Conor about that. His competitive advantage is his quickness. So if he loses that step, he's not as effective as we know him to be, like he has been the last couple of games, and when he has the necessary energy to play the game that he needs to play. By no means was it a slight on him or his contribution to this team. We're just trying to manage each player and their respective circumstances based on how we know them. He's a guy that we try to watch his minutes. We think it's important that we monitor his workload so that he can keep his quickness and that competitive advantage that makes him as good as he is."
-Rust talked about Sheary's goal:
“It's awesome. I know what he's feeling and it's awesome. He's going to get a jillion texts and he's going to have a lot of fun tonight. It's a special feeling for him and being along the ride with him. The whole second half of the year it's fun to see him have such success."
-Rust spoke about the Sharks' play in the third period:
"They had a good push as you would expect it being the Stanley Cup Final. They pushed hard. They got a late goal. But we didn't change our game.”
-Crosby said he's not surprised at how well his rookie teammates have played:
“I don't think at this point with the way they've played. The group of them have all been in different situations but all are handling it great. I think they're having fun with it. They're enjoying it but they also have a lot of confidence in their abilities and they're showing what they can do.”
-Letang talked about his rookie teammates:
"They have big roles. They're on top-two lines and they have to deliver. They have done that all year long. We have so much depth. These kids have been outstanding for our team. [Rust, Sheary], even [right winger Tom] Kuhnhackl. He plays the [penalty kill]. He brings a big element on the forecheck for us. We ask a lot from them and they are able to deliver."
-Kessel described his goal:
"The ice is real bouncy tonight. Just whipped on a pass, it bounced over his stick, he didn't get anything on it. Kind of bounced over mine, right? Their [defense], [Hagelin] stripped them, passed to [Bonino]. That's kind of how it happened. "
-Hagelin described the play leading to Kessel's goal:
“That's what happened. We created the turnover. I lifted the guy's stick. I made a good play to [Bonino]. He showed a lot of poise feeding Phil backdoor. It was great to see Phil back there. You don't know if the puck would have gone in otherwise."
-Sullivan talked about his team's speed:
"Well, I think our team has the ability to wear teams down with our puck pursuit game and forcing defensemen to turn and go back for pucks. It's tiring. It wears on people. I've seen that throughout the course of this playoffs with some of our opponents. I think that's one of the strengths of our group, is when we establish the puck pursuit game like we have, it makes it hard on our opponents. We become a much more difficult team to play against."
-Hagelin was asked why his team's speed creates so many issues for the Sharks:
“I think it just starts being hard on the forecheck. Skating a lot. When you do that, you don't give them a lot of time and space.”
-Hornqvist explained why his team seems to do well quickly in overtime:
“Because we play the same way all periods. We don't' change anything if there's overtime or the first shift to the game. That's really been our statement here since [Sullivan] took over.”
-Rust talked about all the posts and crossbars:
“There were posts. There were crossbars. There were a lot of broken sticks. There were things all over that game that maybe prevented a few more goals.”
-Letang went out on a limb and said Crosby was a good player:
"He's an elite player. He believes in himself. He's confident so that doesn't surprise me. ... He's probably the best player in the world so I think we should believe in him."
-Sullivan lauded Crosby:
"I think Sid, he's just been a horse out there. He's a threat every time he's on the ice. He's playing the game the right way. He plays a complete game, the full sheet. He wins faceoffs. He's great on the puck battles. He can defend. When he plays against the opponent's top players, he has the ability to score goals or create that offensive threat and force them to have to defend. For me right now, I think he's inspiring for our group. I know our players recognize the effort that he's putting in. You can see it in his body language. He's excited about this opportunity that we have. He's trying to make the most of it. He's doing everything in his power to help this team win right now."
-Letang liked his team's overall play:
"I think the message after Game 1 was keep the same desperation. You could see in Game 1, in the second period, we took a breather and they made us pay. I think it was good in the second game that we sustained a 60-minute game."
-Sullivan lauded Kessel:
"Phil's a guy, he doesn't show a whole lot of emotion. He just goes over the boards. You tell him his line is up, he goes over the boards, he plays. I think that's part of his personality. He doesn't seem to have any sort of anxiety. He just plays the game that he always plays. That's what he's doing for us. I think Phil's a guy, not too many players in the league can score like him. He really has a knack for finding the back of the net, whether it's in tight, his release on the shot, the velocity of his shot. He's a threat in a lot of ways. He's really helped us when he's found that chemistry with the guys that he's playing with right now. That line has been really, I think, critical in scoring some timely goals for us throughout the course of this playoffs. I think those guys, they're feeling it right now. They have that chemistry. I think they believe in one another. Their confidence is at an all-time high. I think he's part of it. There aren't too many guys that I've seen anyway that can score goals like Phil."
-Couture diagnosed his team's main problem:
"We're not getting enough shots through. We're forcing things. There are things that worked the first couple of rounds to get us here. We're trying to force things. We need to be better in their end offensively creating scoring chances."
-Braun lauded the Penguins' play in the neutral zone:
“I think a lot of it comes back to good sticks. Knocking down a lot of pucks. They're good postionally. They keep working back just like we do. So I think that's been slowing us down quite a bit.”
Couture said his team is sloppy with puck management:
"We turned the puck over again. I don't know what the total was but a ton of turnovers. I don't know if it's their pressure or us just making bad plays. We can't be turning the puck over like we are. It's tough. We're not supporting each other and leaving our [defensemen] alone. That's how turnovers happen.”
-Couture noted the Sharks have yet to win an overtime game this postseason:
"For some reason, this playoffs, we haven't done that. … Someone hasn't gone out and scored a goal. We're 0-4 now.”
Malkin talked about his new child:
“It's a great moment in my life. It changed a little bit right now. I'm a happy guy. I just enjoy my two families. One family at home and one family here."
Malkin on his better half:
“My wife did a great job. She said go home and sleep. I go home after everything and slept like 11 hours.”
Malkin on his son:
“It unbelievable. I know it's my son because it's 7.1 [pounds]. ... Nikita. We tried to find a good name in Russia and a short name here. Nicky. It's easy to spell. Easy sound. Both countries.”
-Sharks coach Peter DeBoer talked about mixing up his lines:
"We got a little spark. The second line got us the goal, the Braun goal. We needed to change something up. We weren't generating enough after two five-on-five. I liked our third period. We got a few more looks. We found a way to score a goal. I think over the third and the overtime we out-shot them. So some good things happened. But we've got to build on that and find a way to create a little bit more."
-The Penguins had a 30-22 lead in shots.
-Kessel led the game with five shots.
-Burns led the Sharks with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 27:41 of ice time.
-Burns led the Sharks with 24:53.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 40-33 (55 percent).
-Crosby was 17 for 24 (71 percent).
-Shark center Chris Tierney was 9 for 16 (56 percent).
-Bonino led the game with six blocked shots.
-Defenseman Paul Martin led the Sharks with three blocked shots.
-Home teams which win Games 1 and 2 of a Stanley Cup final are 33-3 all-time in terms of winning the series.
-The Penguins set a single postseason franchise record with their sixth overtime game and fourth overtime win.
-Sheary scored his first career playoff overtime goal.
-Sheary is only the fifth rookie to score an overtime goal in a Stanley Cup Final game:
-Murray tied goaltender Ken Wregget for third most postseason wins in franchise history with 13.
(Photo: Peter Diana / Post-Gazette)