I have a simple philosophy when watching the Penguins in the playoffs: Don't overreact.
In 2009, the Pens were down 0-2 to the Capitals and the Red Wings. They won both series, and they won the Cup.
In 2016, the Pens were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I remember thinking to myself, "this team isn't going to win another championship in the Crosby/Malkin era." They've won two since then. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a wild rollercoaster befitting of Kennywood.
Losing game 1 of this qualifying round series doesn't eliminate the Penguins from Stanley Cup contention. There's no need to fire Mike Sullivan mid-round or to set Matt Murray ablaze in the streets.
That doesn't mean, however, that the Pens don't have room to improve. Obviously they do. Here are some things that didn't work on Saturday and will need to be cleaned up if Pittsburgh is to regroup and move on.
--The power play stunk. The Pens were unable to score on an extended 5-on-3. What can be done? STOP THE SHUFFLING. Give me a defined five-man unit. I'd put Rust in the left circle. He shoots the puck, is a right handed shot, and isn't afraid to get greasy. Put Hornqvist in his customary spot in front of Carey Price. Have Sid work down low, Malkin man the right side on the point, and have Kris Letang on the left point. Hammer shots and get bodies in front. The Pens scored two goals yesterday. They came from behind the net and in the crease.
--Matt Murray wasn't great. He wasn't the reason that they lost, but he wasn't great. Too many rebounds fell into high danger areas. He could have stopped the Nick Suzuki goal on the 2-on-1. First and foremost, I blame Dumoulin's unsuccessful pinch and Marleau's lack of awareness to get back. Murray could have stopped the shot, however. Murray just never seemed comfortable. He doesn't suck. He's had a wonderful Penguins career and fans would do well to remember that. But, I would play Jarry in game two. Murray didn't cost the Pens the game, but if he plays that way again, and the Habs take advantage, Pittsburgh could be facing elimination.
--Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz were brutal. On the Kotkaniemi goal, Johnson whiffed on a check then played himself back into the play where he somehow managed to bump Justin Schultz and then push Kotkaniemi and the puck into the back of the net. It was a horrendous sequence only to be outdone by what happened in OT. On the eventual game winner, the Habs were racing down the ice on a 3-on-5! When the puck found the twine, Johnson and Schultz were each trapped in the same corner doing a bang-up job of social distancing from the puck.
--The Penguins "third line" was invisible. I already mentioned Patrick Marleau's shortcoming on the Suzuki goal. The "third" line was outshot, and Jared McCann's late season play carried over into this one. He went his final 22 games without a goal. Mike Sullivan saw the struggles, and in turn only played Marleau 11:15. Yikes!
--Crosby and Malkin were good, but need to be great. Crosby scored a goal and had a wonderful shift in overtime that could have led to the game winner. Evgeni Malkin had three grade-A chances in the game's first six minutes. Two from the slot, and one flying down the right wing wall. Carey Price was Jonny on the Spot for all three. Still, you need more than one point between Sid and Geno. For as good as Nick Suzuki was in this game, particularly on the PK, he only attempted two shots when on the ice against Malkin 5-on-5. I still like that matchup. As Tim Benz says, Malkin, Zucker, and Rust just have to finish.
So, there you have it. The Penguins haven't been eliminated. The sky isn't falling. But there are things to work on. If they lose game two, Twitter will be a hellscape. The Pens will be in legitimate danger of getting bounced. I still have confidence that they'll defeat the Habs. Coming into the series, I thought they'd win three in a row. I think they can, and will, win three out of four.