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Net differential; Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins game 5 preview

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The Penguins are making a change in crease, when the effort change is much more needed fro the general defense in front of the goalie.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3, 2, 2, 4; those are the total goals scored by the Tampa Bay Lightning in games 1 through 4 during the Eastern Conference Finals. 11 goals over 4 games, while it's worth stressing the game 3 total should come with a big asterisk next to it, because Tampa Bay could not get by Matt Murray until late in the game. Game 3 was a Pittsburgh win, soundly. Game 2 was a Pittsburgh win, soundly. Game 1? Game 1 of the series could be labeled a Murray fail or a defensive failure by the Pittsburgh Penguins; three goals allowed on 20 shots on net will do that for you. That's the way you don't want to start a best-of-7 series.

Game 4 at Amalie Arena was a defense-first failure by the Penguins, and one statistic shows that tale soundly: Shots on goal. The Lightning, in games 1 and 2, only mustered 20 and 21 shots total. The low shot count of game 1 does sort of underline Penguin concerns over that one but efforts in game 2 and 3 made up for it.  Game 3, with the Bolts back at the Amalie (and the outcome sorely disappointing) they managed to put 28 shots on Matt Murray. There was a positive degree of effort there in the end, but not nearly successful. All in all, 69 shots on goal in 3 games, or 23 shots averaged on net in an Eastern Conference Finals series. That's harshly disappointing...

Friday's win, on the other hand, was a 37 shots-on-net effort. Four goals get scored on the crease in 2 periods of play and there were 30 shots on Murray's net during that time span. It's also notable Tampa Bay, after taking 15 shots on average per period, only managed 7 more shots on goal in the 3rd period of play, the time Marc-Andre Fleury played in net.

Here's what I don't get: There's been a lot of speculative talk that Marc-Andre Fleury will start game 5 for the Penguins, and yet it's not the effort in-the-crease that seems to have crumbled mightily for Pittsburgh until the last 1/3rd of the game on May 20th... Defense, on the other hand, in not stopping the Lightning's efforts and retaining puck control for the sake of the Penguins attack?

If Marc-Andre Fleury performing in net is seen as a profound morale boost for the Penguins, I suppose that's reason enough to switch netminders for game 5 and perhaps the rest of the now best-of-3 series. At the same time, getting on the case of the rest of the roster for dropping the ball for 40 minutes Friday night seems like a relevant task to do (with priority). It's hard to get on a 21 year old goalie's case in the crease for a loss with a mixed-effort by the club in front of him.

Case in point: Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasy has faced 153 shots on net in the first four games of the series: 26, 41, 48, and 38, in that order. Mind you, that game 1 total of 26 is reduced by way of the fact he came in to relieve a wounded Ben Bishop.

It might be a morale boost for the Pens to start Fleury in place of Murray (because it's their long time man of the crease back in net) but it's a bigger effort question that seems to be what failed Friday night at the Amalie... There's also no telling if we'll see that failure again tonight at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

That's not quite trying to write off Marc-Andre Fleury in general, who has been pretty consistent with his GAA and save percentage through his NHL career. Yet Fleury's 3rd period performance was his first moments in the crease for the Pens in the entire playoffs in 2016 (Fleury's been recovering from a concussion and was cleared to play a while ago... but hasn't). While it's a home game and thus improves the atmosphere to perform in, it's also a high pressure contest for the Penguins. It doesn't mean Fleury will be sapped should things go the wrong way for the Penguins, but what does it tell Matt Murray? What does it tell the team if Fleury ends up replaced, mid game, by Murray?

Of course, this is a Tampa Bay blog and I haven't exactly said anything about the Lightning and game 5 directly. I noted the shot totals that coincide the 2-2 series, and it's worth stressing that the Bolts had 30 shots in 2 periods of play on Friday. The preview note here is a request toward the Lightning in general: Do it again. Bring pressure to the Pittsburgh crease and shoot.

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