"Usually in practice, you will see a couple of things that we are doing just to maintain our focus and get sharper in areas. In different areas, the game changes (from series to series), areas we have to be more focused on, and improved in."
-- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma PITTSBURGH
-- With a rare two days off between games of this Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was able to put his team through an unusually long practice at Mellon Arena on Wednesday morning.
"It's good, with days off we need to get the wheels turning again," defenseman Hal Gill said after the session.
The wheels were certainly turning as Bylsma put the Penguins through their paces, looking to address some of the deficiencies he identified after Game 1.
Also, he was working on changing his team's mindset and approach to handle the higher battle level that Carolina brings to the rink, as opposed to a Washington team that, in the last round, was more willing to go up and down the ice and trade chances.
"Usually in practice, you will see a couple of things that we are doing just to maintain our focus and get sharper in areas," Bylsma said. "In different areas, the game changes (from series to series), areas we have to be more focused on, and improved in."
Part of practice was spent working on countering Carolina's aggressive forecheck, a system designed to create turnovers and force the puck into particular areas of the ice that allow the Hurricanes to keep the opposition bottled up.
"We talked about that, did a couple of drills on it," Bylsma said. "That'll be an area of focus. There are other areas, as well. We have to get out of the last series and get ready for these guys."
It was nothing new for the Penguins, who have been making these types of adjustments for the better part of six weeks now.
"It was just adjustments," Sidney Crosby
said. "You have a day to practice and it is a good situation to prepare.”
But practice did not go without its intrigue as the Penguins survived two injury scares. During a rush drill, Evgeni Malkin
crashed into assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald at the blue line and both tumbled before picking themselves and continuing. Later, during a 3-on-2 drill, defenseman Rob Scuderi took a slap shot from point-blank range off his foot. He required a visit from the trainer as a hush fell over the arena, but was able to shake it off
"Any time a guy goes down in practice, it's difficult for guys to kind of wait and see," Crosby said. "You don't want to see that. It's hard enough to stay healthy in the playoffs. The good thing, though, is guys are practicing hard and that is good to see."
Speaking of staying healthy in the postseason, it appears that defenseman Sergei Gonchar is closing in on being 100 percent after going through Wednesday's practice without problems. Gonchar also played more than 22 minutes Monday in Pittsburgh's Game 1 victory.
"With the treatment that he has gotten, he feels comfortable that he can play and be effective pivoting, skating and going back for pucks," Bylsma said. "I'm not surprised to see him play that much. If need be, I wouldn't be surprised to see him play more. He's capable of that and wants to play more.
"His movement back there surprises me. He looks good, looks fluid and that's a big part of his game -- agility, being able to skate and make plays. To see him do that, you know he feels comfortable.
Does that mean Bylsma is contemplating going back to a more conventional alignment of six defensemen and 12 forwards, as opposed to the seven-D look the Penguins have featured for the past four games?
He says he is still up in the air about that.
"It makes for a different decision knowing that he played for 22 minutes last game and seemed to respond pretty well," Bylsma said. "There is always a concern, though. When you lose a defenseman and go down to five, it can be tough and taxing on the defense. We have to weigh those decisions. Going into the next game, we will have to weigh it again."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor