Penguins, Lightning hope for more control
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins skated in to Amalie Arena to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, a track meet broke out with nine combined goals scored.
Both teams hope to play a more controlled game this time around when the two teams meet Saturday night for the second time in 10 days.
Tampa Bay (6-1-1) entered Friday night fifth in the league, averaging 3.63 goals per game through the opening two weeks. The Penguins, which rallied to beat Florida 4-3 on Friday, were right behind at 3.57 goals per game.
With high-skilled players on both teams, expecting a low-scoring, defensive battle might be a bit much to expect, even if the mantra heading in to the game is to slow things down.
"You have two highly talented teams, lots of skill and lots of speed, so that's a lot easier said than done," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Both teams are effective on the rush and usually when you are effective off the rush and you go down and create a chance, you usually don't get the retrieval and you are giving up a chance the other way. That's how the teams are built."
The Lightning feature the league's top two scorers in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (who missed practice on Friday for maintenance purposes) with 14 and 13 points, respectively. The Penguins, who scored three power-play goals in the victory against Florida, has the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Sometimes when the horses get loose, it's a difficult task to rein them back in.
"It's a very entertaining game for the fans and the players enjoy playing in those games," Bowness said. "Now, that being said, do we want to get in a run-and-gun with them? No. (But) you want to give your better players minutes and your better players are the guys going end-to-end and you have to let them go. Sometimes you just let it go and see how it works out and how it's going to progress."
The Penguins come into Saturday's game on a three-game winning streak and needed their offense to come through against Florida, falling behind by two goals in the first period before rallying for victory with Conor Sheary providing the winning goal late in the third.
And just like the Lightning, even with the high scoring potential on any given night, being involved in high-octane hockey is not the preference.
"We don't want to be a team that trades chance for chance because you can't control your destiny if you play that way," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan told tribtotalmedia.com. "You'll win some games but you are going to lose some, too. We have to be more of a team that controls territory, that controls the momentum, that has more of a defensive conscience in mind so that we have a better opportunity to control the outcome."
With Pittsburgh once again coming in to face the Lightning on the second half of a back-to-back, avoiding a track meet to try to pick up a victory for the first time this season in the back-half game will help the Penguins' cause.
"It's another challenge," Sullivan said. "We have to find a way to have success in those back-to-back games. We've done it in the past. We're capable. A lot of it is mind over matter. For me, when you play back-to-back games, it's more about will than about skill. It's playing a smart, efficient game and making sure you don't beat yourself."
Updated October 21, 2017