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For Pens, best defense is a good offense

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the Penguins, a good offense seems to be the best defense. At least, that is what Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma believes.

Heading into Saturday night's Game 3 (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS) at the RBC Center, Pittsburgh holds a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, in part because they have done a masterful job of holding Carolina's top line in check.

Center Eric Staal, the Canes’ leading scorer, has just one assist and is a minus-3 in the two games.  Winger Ray Whitney has two assists, but is a minus-2 and has just three shots on goal. Scott Walker and Chad LaRose each spent a game on Staal's other wing and they combined for a goal -- by LaRose in Game 2 -- a minus-2 rating and just three shots.

At Saturday's morning skate, Bylsma placed a lot of that credit on his checking line, headed by Eric Staal's younger brother, Jordan, but not for reasons you might think.

"Typically, lines that do a good job of checking, they tend to be good lines in the offensive zone, holding onto the puck," Bylsma said. "They may not be as skilled at getting goals, but they have the ability of getting shifts in the offensive zone.

"When you can force a player that is offensive to play in his D zone for 30 seconds or spend the majority of his shift in the D zone, it's much tougher for them to gain those offensive opportunities. It also frustrates him because he knows he's counted on to get the puck, get to the offensive zone and get goals for his team. So, if he has to play D a lot, the frustration level goes up."

The Jordan Staal line, which includes Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, was very good at sustaining pressure in the offensive zone in the first two games, forcing Carolina's top line to chase the puck and exhaust itself playing defense.

Now, however, Carolina has the last change after whistles for the next two games and the Hurricanes can get away from the Staal vs. Staal battle if they choose. Yet all of Pittsburgh's other lines are offensively gifted as well, so Pittsburgh will try to keep the pressure on that way.

One thing the Penguins won't do to counter Carolina's last change, though, is shadow Eric Staal.

"I'm not a fan of the old-school, have-a guy-follow-him-around mentality," Bylsma said. "Forwards have defensive responsibilities."

Plus, Bylsma will look even more to match defensemen against Carolina's lines on the road. He entrusts the deployment of his defense pairs to assistant coach Mike Yeo.

It's a safe bet that defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi will once again see the majority of the ice time against Eric Staal's group, just as they have for the first two games of this series.

"Mike does a good job of matching up defensive pairs against top lines," Bylsma said. "That's something we like to do -- give defensemen a role: this is what you will be doing, this is the line you will be playing against for the majority of game."

 
Then, it is up to the players to execute once they are on the ice.

So far, Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik has liked what he has seen -- especially from the Pittsburgh forwards.

"The biggest thing is having a good gap on him in the neutral zone and taking his time and space away," Orpik said. "He obviously finds a way to avoid those situations because he is such a good skater.

"The first couple of games he didn't really get an opportunity to wind it up in his own zone off turnovers and a lot of that is the forwards on our team not turning the puck over. That's them being disciplined and getting the pucks behind their defensemen because guys like him just live off turnovers. The first couple of games we have done a really good job with that."

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