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Pens believe in 'the system'

by Dan Rosen

The Penguins 1-2-2 system allows speedier players like Sidney Crosby to break past opposing defenders knowing that his two other linemates can protect him defensively. Check out Crosby highlights
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DETROIT – The skill level they're about to face is much different now and much better than anything they've seen in the playoffs to date.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins are quite confident that despite the fact that the enemy now includes otherworldly talents like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, their team defense can be just as excellent as it was in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It really helps that we believe in our system, and if everybody does what we have been doing we should be fine," Penguins winger Marian Hossa said. "Obviously we have to be really smart. When you have Lidstrom and Rafalski on the blue line you have one of the best players in the League and the other is an all-star, too. We have to make smart decisions because it can be costly."

Pittsburgh's vaunted 1-2-2 defensive system -- don't call it a trap -- became a major storyline in the Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, who struggled to move the puck through the neutral zone because of it and lost in five games.

Now the challenge is for the Penguins to stymie the Red Wings, which isn't a chore for the faint at heart. Detroit has enough speed to match the Penguins and has enough skill and intelligence to negate the Penguins' 1-2-2 system.

But the Penguins will give it a try anyway because this is the system that got them here and this is what they do best. They just have to do it right or they can be burned big time.

"We're going to find out quickly in Game 1," Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. "They have some pretty talented guys back there that are going to be able to move the puck, but it's our job to try to take that time and space away. I definitely know if we're sitting back on our heels that they're definitely going to try to tic-tac-toe around us. We have to make sure we are on our toes, trying to be physical, try to take their time and space away."

The main goal of the 1-2-2 is to obviously get the puck back by, as Malone said, taking a defenseman's time and space away. By closing the lanes, checking hard and moving forward the Penguins neutralized a lot of the Flyers breakouts.

One of the main things the Penguins have to do to be successful in this system against the Red Wings is constantly attack. Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said he watched the Dallas Stars do too much backwards skating in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and the Red Wings burned them in a 4-1 win.

"This way you're trying to hurry them up," Malone said of why the Penguins must move forward in their defensive system. "Maybe they make a bad decision. You're really trying to get on them as quick as possible, hurry them up and hopefully put them in a bad position."

The Penguins will usually deploy one of their speedy forwards such as Sidney Crosby at the top of the 1-2-2, but if the puck gets past him the two remaining forwards, who stand near the red line have to "close the line and don't back off," Talbot said.

"They have to stay there and keep their ice so they can't get control," he continued. "If they chip it in, we'll get the puck back."

That's where the speed factor comes in. Obviously if the Red Wings dump the puck over the 1-2-2 they want to chase it as well. The Penguins are a fast team, too, so speed could be the deciding factor in the Red Wings keeping possession of the puck.

But Lidstrom counters by saying one of the ways to beat the 1-2-2 without just dumping it in is to have quicker counter attacks.

"Speed is a big part of it," Lidstrom said. "If you bring the puck back and go D-to-D they have a chance to set up that trap. If you have quicker transitions, that's going to lead to their team having a tougher time setting their trap up."

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