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Pens supporting Fleury with emphasis on shot-blocking

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

"There's some plays I'd rather see the puck ... and some times when the (defenseman) slides across it prevents it from being tipped, or the guy is shooting high because a guy is sliding down, that helps sometimes."
-- Marc-Andre Fleury

PITTSBURGH -- If the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a time of desperation, the statistic that best personifies a team's desperation could be blocked shots.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have blocked a League-high 161 shots heading into Monday's games, and have four of the top six individual shot-blockers.

Mark Eaton is tied for the League lead with 26, and Brooks Orpik (third, 24), Rob Scuderi (fourth, 23) and Hal Gill (tied for fifth, 22) follow close behind.

"We've got guys that are willing to go out and pay the price and do whatever it takes to win," Penguins assistant coach Mike Yeo, who primarily works with the team's defensemen, told NHL.com. "A lot of times it's a matter of being in the right position and being in the shooting lane; other times it's just a matter of desperation -- you see the other team has a chance to get it to the net and you want to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn't get there. It's more than systems or what we're telling them as coaches; it's the players and their willingness to do whatever it takes to win."

The Penguins have shown a willingness to do just that. They've blocked more shots than the Caps in the series, 89-81, and have blocked 41 in the last two games.

"Against these guys, as much as they like to shoot the puck, you just try to get into shooting lanes and make the shot as difficult as possible and lots of times the shot will hit you somewhere," Eaton told NHL.com.

Some goaltenders don't like to see their defensemen sliding all over the ice to block shots, while others don't mind at all. You can put Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury into the latter category. He finds that with his defensemen willing to take away shots, it forces the other team to shoot higher, which allows him to concentrate on taking away the top corners of the net.

"There's some plays I'd rather see the puck ... and some times when the (defenseman) slides across it prevents it from being tipped, or the guy is shooting high because a guy is sliding down, that helps sometimes," Fleury told NHL.com.

"I think he likes when we block shots," Orpik told NHL.com. "He's always pretty vocal about when we do block shots. The less shots he can see the better. But when you do miss it, it makes it a little tougher on him."

Orpik said if he or anyone else is going to leave his feet to block a shot, they have to be certain they're going to get a piece of it or they should just get out of the way.

"If you're going to block a shot, you have to be 100 percent you're going to get the puck, because if you don't, you see so many times now you go to block it and you screen the goalie," Orpik said. "If he stops it he's probably going to give up a rebound and the guy you're supposed to be covering is usually right around the net. It's one of those things where you have to be 100 percent, because if you're not the goalie would rather you just box your guy out so he can see it."

Now, for the defense ... -- Sergei Gonchar skipped Monday morning's practice, and his status for Game 6 (Monday, 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) remains questionable. Gonchar hurt his right knee in a collision with the Caps' Alexander Ovechkin in Game 4 and sat out Game 5.

If Gonchar can't play, coach Dan Bylsma could opt for using seven defensemen again, much like he did in Game 5. Bylsma has admitted to not being a fan of having seven defensemen in the lineup, but the situation in Game 5 dictated he go that route, which meant playing Philippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski and going with just 11 forwards.

Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Gear"In the situation with back-to-back games I was real comfortable with alleviating some minutes with the five defensemen that finished the game in Game 4," Bylsma said. "We added another five or six minutes to their minutes, we were playing back-to-back nights. Tough situation, so adding another defenseman alleviated some of the minutes they would get with just six."

Bylsma said Goligoski and Boucher each played their respective roles just the way he hoped they would, which will make his final lineup that much tougher to write out.

They did a good job in their respective roles," Bylsma said. "Goose (Goligoski) was comfortable back there on the power play, not an easy thing to do in the playoffs. Boucher was spot on with his gap and blocking shots. They did what we thought they could do."

Who's that goalie? --
With so much of the focus of the series on each team's respective superstars, plus flashy Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been the forgotten star of this series.

Fleury has a 2.91 goals-against average and .888 save percentage in the first five games against Washington, allowing just 15 goals in 135 shots.

More than that, however, is the confidence Fleury has inspired in his teammates and coaching staff. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Fleury's play was reminiscent of when he played for the 2003 Ducks that rode goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"Marc-Andre Fleury has made huge stops for us. If you look at the first round, at key points he was difference in that series." -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
"Having been through J-S Giguere's playoff run in '03, he had a couple good games early on that stole games for us, then he went through periods of time where he played well but wasn't the main factor in the game -- made the stops, had good games, but how well he played was based on the fact that he had stolen a couple games," Bylsma said. "Marc-Andre Fleury has made huge stops for us. If you look at the first round, at key points he was difference in that series. It was the save with the toe on (Jeff) Carter (in Game 2), (Game 4) in Philadelphia.

"Going on and on and on, you need your goalie to be there night in and night out. Sometimes it gets overlooked by different storylines, but we all know how important he is for us. We all know how big he is in the net and he has that ability and continues to show that ability night in and night out and is a big part of our team for that reason."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com
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