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Penguins look to see how they measure up vs. Caps

Thursday, 01.21.2010 / 1:44 PM / NHL Insider

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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Penguins look to see how they measure up vs. Caps
Dan Byslma looks at Thursday's game against the Capitals as a good gauge of his team's ability to match up against a top foe.
PITTSBURGH -- For days, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been talking about Thursday night's game against the Washington Capitals as a measuring-stick game.
                                                                                                   
"Is this game a be-all or end-all for either team? Not at all," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday morning. "Is this a great chance to measure yourself against a team at the top of their division, (against) another team that won the Stanley Cup last year? Yes, it is. Are these two good teams, talented players, dangerous in different situations? Yes, it is."
 
Sidney Crosby, the focus of much of the hype because of his burgeoning rivalry with Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin, is one of those talented, dangerous players. He hopes that Thursday night's game (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) at Mellon Arena will give him a read on where his team stands as it tries to fight its way out of a stretch of mediocrity that saw the defending Stanley Cup champs lose eight of 11 games before winning three of their past four.
 
"You are never going to play a perfect game, but for us, for the most part, I think we are playing pretty good hockey," Crosby said. "The most important thing is when your teams gets to these big games that your team raises its level. That's the thing. As we keep going here, games are going to get bigger and bigger and you want to make sure everyone responds the right way."
 
And what is the right way?
 
"You respond by playing your game, not getting away from it. If you are able to do the things you want to do when you are playing a good team, that's a good sign. That will be the importance for us. Will this be the season for us? No. But, you look to these games as good tests and see how you respond to that."
 

"You respond by playing your game, not getting away from it. If you are able to do the things you want to do when you are playing a good team, that's a good sign. That will be the importance for us. Will this be the season for us? No. But, you look to these games as good tests and see how you respond to that."
-- Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh's game in its recent run of good fortune -- wins against Calgary and Edmonton, as well as Tuesday's 6-4 victory against the Islanders -- has seen the Penguins get back to the puck-management game that marked their postseason run last spring, a run that including a thrilling seven-game series against these Capitals in the second round.
 
Plus, Pittsburgh's power play -- dormant for much of the season -- has begun to show signs of life.
 
But Bylsma knows that the defensive side of the game will be the ultimate test against a Capitals team that is firing on all cylinders; leading the Eastern Conference standings and scoring the most goals in the League (185).
 
"We are acutely aware of who we are playing and how we need to play," Bylsma said. "We know some of the firepower they have. It’s very key for us to manage the puck the right way. To get to the offensive zone is the best way to slow a dangerous team down. We have to make sure we play that way. It’s our game and we can’t try to fight offense with offense.
 
"We have to play the right way, manage the puck, execute, get out of the D zone and hold onto the puck for long periods of time. There’s almost an incentive to manage the puck a little better and be more attentive to the other side of the puck. That will lend to us having more time in the offensive zone and keeping their guys out of those dangerous areas."
 
If the Penguins are able to manage the puck and dominate time in the attacking zone, the final score almost doesn't matter. As Crosby said, the Penguins will have a proper read on where they stand against elite competition as they head into the Olympic Break.
 
Down the road, that understanding could be almost as important as the two points on offer Thursday night.
 
"We know we've gotten better," Bylsma said, adding his Pens seemed to have found their game on last week's Western Canada swing. "We've paid a little more attention to managing the puck, to get to our game and now we’re coming back with 11 games to the (Olympic) break. We’re really focusing on this 11 games to continue that, to make a push going into the break.
 
"We are acutely aware of who we are playing and how we need to play. We’ll make assessments of how we played after the game and where we need to go."
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