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Defense is the Best Offense

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
ST. PAUL, MN – The Penguins have been known for their up-tempo, attacking style ever since head coach Dan Bylsma took over the reins in Feb. 2009.

That quick counter approach of turning defense into offense was beautifully on display in the Penguins’ 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center, as Bylsma upended his protégé Wild head coach Mike Yeo.

Three of the Penguins’ four goals were a result of strong defensive plays - leading to turnovers - leading to offense. Making good decisions with the puck is crucial and whenever an opponent makes a mistake, Pittsburgh wants to be there to pounce.

“We want to put pressure on the puck. We want to be aggressive,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We saw that today, especially the third goal.

“I thought at times we were able to hunt pucks on the forecheck. When we needed to we had continued time in the offensive zone by creating those turnovers and playing there. It was key for us to play that way, especially in back-to-back nights and a lot of hockey that we’ve played. The guys gutted this one out; it was a great team win.”

The Penguins got on the board 46 seconds into the second period. Chris Kunitz was pressuring Wild defenseman Greg Zanon just inside the offensive blue line. Kunitz tipped the attempted clear toward the boards.

Pascal Dupuis alertly retrieved the loose puck as Kunitz slid himself into shooting position above the near circle. Dupuis laid out a perfect pass and Kunitz one-timed a shot into the goal to make it a 1-0 game in favor of Pittsburgh.

James Neal was the benefactor of some good work turning defense into offense. While being hounded by Joe Vitale, Wild defenseman Marco Scandella tried to make a backward pass to a defender in his own zone. Neal stole the puck, turned up ice and skated in on goal. He quickly snapped a shot through the five-hole of goalie Niklas Backstrom to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead. It was Neal’s sixth goal of the season.

Joe Vitale was hard on the forecheck there. He forced their D up the wall,” Neal explained. “I had a good stick for a big turnover. I got to go in for a big goal to make it 3-1. All night we were pressuring them and it’s a huge team effort.”

Another superb defensive play while the team was shorthanded led to a disadvantaged goal for Dupuis. Matt Cooke pressured the puck against Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Marek Zidlicky, forcing a turnover. Dupuis, reading the play wisely, started skating up ice. Cooke alertly threw a pass off the boards and right to the stick of a sprinting Dupuis, who was all alone on a breakaway. Dupuis patiently waited until Backstrom was flat on his belly and raised a backhander into the netting.

“(Cooke) made a really good play,” Dupuis said. “He won a puck battle at the blue line. I skated toward the blue line and the puck ended up on my blade. I had a breakaway from the red line in. Luckily, I put in.”

When the Penguins are clicking in their counter attack, they are one of the most dangerous team to play against in the NHL. That was evident against Minnesota.

“The way we play on the defensive side of the puck creates turnovers. As soon as we get the puck, it’s all offensive,” Dupuis said. “Guys are taking care of the puck and we made some nice plays tonight.”
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