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Penguins control puck by dominating faceoff circle

by Adam Kimelman

PITTSBURGH -- One of the biggest reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers has been their dominance in the faceoff circle.

The Penguins can return to the Eastern Conference Final with a win Friday in Game 5 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

One way they can get there is to continue to win the possession battle, starting with their success on faceoffs. Through four games, the Penguins have won 54.3 percent of the draws.

That dominance was most evident in Game 4, when the Penguins won 31 of 49 draws in a 4-2 victory.

"Faceoffs are big," Penguins forward Marcel Goc said following practice Friday. "If you can win the majority and you start with puck possession, that's what we want."

Center Sidney Crosby said success in the faceoff circle not only allows the Penguins to execute their offense, but it's kept the Rangers from doing some of the things they do best.

"A team like the Rangers is so good off the rush and creating things," he said. "They have guys that can hold onto the puck, so the more you can keep it out of their hands the better off you are."

Crosby has been a big reason the Penguins have had success on faceoffs, winning 51.9 percent (41 of 79). That ranks third on the Penguins behind Goc at 60.5 percent (26 of 43) and Brandon Sutter at 60.0 percent (36 of 60).

Sutter and Goc take a number of draws killing penalties, which in part has led to the Penguins' success shorthanded in the series; Pittsburgh has killed all 15 Rangers power plays.

"Special teams is where you really need them," Sutter said. "It's made a difference for us. … You like to have that confidence and knowing you have that ability to kill it off. I thought their power play has looked better as the series has gone on. We just managed to keep it out of the net. We want to try to keep that going."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said success on neutral-zone draws can be important because it gives the team that wins the faceoff a chance to set itself for potential success in the offensive zone.

The Penguins have dominated in the neutral zone, winning 59.7 percent of faceoffs there, including 10 of 18 in Game 4. That was part of the reason the Penguins limited the Rangers to 15 shots in that game.

"Neutral zone is not that important, but it allows a team to get a forecheck going if they get it and put it in versus us starting with the puck and denying them," Bylsma said. "When you can deny that from an opposition, it's denying one of the things they do well."

Bylsma said he knows more must be done for his team to close the series.

"We have only 75 percent of the wins needed to win this series," he said. "We are not a complete job. It's not complete. You have to win the fourth game [and] we want to do that as soon as possible. You don't want to extend it. You don't want to give opportunities. Right from the start of the game you don't want to give them any opportunity. That has to be our approach. There has to be a desperation level and not looking at 3-1."

The only player missing from Penguins practice Friday was defenseman Brooks Orpik, who left Game 4 after one period due to an undisclosed injury. Bylsma had no update on Orpik, only to say the current injury is different from the one that kept him out of the first three games of the series.

The Penguins practiced with the same lines they used for their morning skate prior to Game 4; when the game started Bylsma switched them. So here is the lineup the Penguins practiced with Friday, with the caveat that it could be changed by game time.

Here are the projected lineups:


Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello

Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Carl Hagelin

Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Martin St. Louis

Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Daniel Carcillo

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Anton Stralman

John Moore - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Raphael Diaz, Justin Falk, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Derek Dorsett, Ryan Haggerty


Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Lee Stempniak

Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal

Beau Bennett - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale

Brian Gibbons - Marcel Goc - Craig Adams

Paul Martin - Kris Letang

Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta

Robert Bortuzzo - Rob Scuderi

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

Scratched: Tanner Glass, Chris Conner, Taylor Pyatt, Deryk Engelland, Tomas Vokoun

Injured: Brooks Orpik (undisclosed), Pascal Dupuis (knee)


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