The Penguins appear to have the Tampa Bay Lightning right where they want them as the two teams prepare for Saturday’s showdown at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh is coming off a four-game road winning streak while the Lightning were defeated by a rather lopsided score, 7-1, on Thursday night in Ottawa.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, however, believes the opposite is true.
“Playing a team that you anticipate is struggling, or has struggled, or had a poor game, you may anticipate a chance for an easier game,” Bylsma said to reporters Saturday following the Penguins’ game-day skate. “I kind of see it as the opposite. I think they’re going to be very ready to play this (game) coming up, very ready to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think they’re going to be high energy, be real focused and come out hard in this game.”
Bylsma compared the situation Tampa Bay faces Saturday night to a similar one the Penguins faced last week when they had to travel to Philadelphia one night after struggling through a home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
“They have a response game coming up, and they have a response game against a good team,” Bylsma said. “We had that situation after the Phoenix game going into Philly. And our team took the challenge, both responding to a poor game, but also going into a tough place to play against a tough opponent.
“I expect that from this team tonight, coming into a tough place, a good team, and coming off a performance they’d like to soon forget about.”
While the Lightning have issues of their own to deal with, the Penguins prefer to worry more about the ones they can control.
The only way to explain it is, and I think it’s a common thing, you might tend to relax a little bit and think things are going to be easier. You get that boost from the crowd and you just expect things to happen instead of trying to go out there and make it happen. ... We have to get to our game early on and initiate things early on and get to our game quick. - Sidney Crosby
It has long been talked about how home teams tend to struggle the first game of a long home stand following an extended period on the road, especially a stretch as successful as the Penguins experienced.
“The only way to explain it is, and I think it’s a common thing, you might tend to relax a little bit and think things are going to be easier,” Crosby said. “You get that boost from the crowd and you just expect things to happen instead of trying to go out there and make it happen. I think there is a tendency to relax a little bit.
“That’s something we have to make sure we don’t let happen. We have to get to our game early on and initiate things early on and get to our game quick.”
Bylsma agreed with his center in talking about what he wants to see his club accomplish in the first 10 minutes of the first period.
“I think really the focus for us in that first 10 minutes of the first period is setting the tempo and the tone of the game in terms of where it’s played and how it’s played, forcing them to deal with our team so that they can’t get that good start, and try to force them to have to go back and play in their defensive zone. (We want to) get them thinking this is going to be a tough night in a tough place to play against a hard team. That’s the tone we’d like to set.
“We want to put them right back on their heels. We want to force them to deal with our team and our speed, make their defensemen go back, and start a forechecking presence. And after that first period we’d like them to be thinking ‘this isn’t the response game we were looking for.’ That’s our challenge. That’s what we have to do coming out tonight. It’s a challenge coming off the road after a week. That’s our focus for the first 10.”
Crosby believes the Penguins won’t need a magical formula to accomplish these tasks, but they must instead focus all 20 players sticking to the blue print.
“I think the most important thing is to believe in (the system) and I think everybody here does. Everyone has a role within that (system) so everyone is pretty familiar with what they need to do. If everyone is responsible for that then we will give ourselves a great chance every night. I think that is part of being consistent as a team.
“We also have to know that as soon as a few of us don’t play that way, or aren’t responsible for that responsibility we are supposed to have, it can go the other way. There is a real fine line there. It’s nice and encouraging to know if we play the right way, we are going to see results.”