San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer called it the biggest fix his team needs to make if they have any hope of rallying in the Stanley Cup final.
On the verge of elimination after a 3-1 loss in Game 4, the Sharks have given up the first goal in every game so far. They have yet to play with a lead for even a second, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the best-of-seven series with Game 5 ahead at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night.
"We've been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first," DeBoer said after Monday's loss. "We have to find a way to get on the board earlier in the game instead of chasing it all night."
The Sharks are 10-3 in the playoffs when they score first and 3-6 when they don't. They also owned the second-best record during the regular season when hitting the board first, boasting a 35-6-2 mark, which trailed only the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.
DeBoer said the pressure increased when the opponent notched the game's first goal. It ruined the rhythm of the bench, he said. Rolling four lines suddenly became less enticing with a deficit because there was more urgency to score or create a scoring chance and more imperative to play certain players more often.
"I don't know what it is," he said of the inability to score first. "But it's been a big issue these (four) games."
San Jose has had to chase its way back into every game of the series, rallying on multiple occasions to even the score, but never to actually get ahead and play with the lead.
The Sharks got their first and only lead of the series when Joonas Donskoi scored the overtime winner in Game 3.
The Western Conference champs came out with good energy in front of an enthusiastic home crowd at SAP Center in Game 4, one that was clad in teal T-shirts emblazoned with sharks circling around two penguins on a lonely chunk of ice.
Despite those encouraging opening minutes, the Sharks could not score. Instead it was Penguins defenceman Ian Cole, he of zero goals previously in the playoffs, landing the first marker on a rebound.
Cole was wide open on the weak side of the ice when Phil Kessel fired a shot from a bad angle at Martin Jones, the Sharks slow to find their bearings and their foes after a line change.
"You don't want to give up the first goal, especially on that tough change," Sharks centre Logan Couture said afterward.
Pittsburgh has outshot San Jose 46-24 in the first period so far this series and is now 12-3 in the post-season when scoring first.
It wasn't this way at all for the Sharks in the opening three rounds of the post-season. They managed to land the game's opening goal in 13 of their first 18 games this spring, winning 10 times.
DeBoer couldn't pinpoint what exactly had changed.
The first period of the first Stanley Cup final in Sharks history was perhaps a sign of things to come. The club was outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in an eventual 3-2 loss.
"We haven't been able to get out and get a lead," Sharks defenceman Paul Martin said, "and we're a different team when we do that."