The best defense is a good offense, as the saying goes. Well, that works both ways, and that reversed cliché is being taken to another level by the Penguins.
Pittsburgh’s blueliners have been an offensive force throughout the early part of the season, racking up points at an impressive rate (27 total) and supplying an offensive punch from the backend.
Among the Penguins’ Top 6 scorers – three patrol the blue line: Kris Letang
; Alex Goligoski; and Paul Martin
Letang is tied for second on the team in scoring with eight points (2G-6A) to go with a team-best plus-9 rating. Martin (1G-6A) and Goligoski (3G-4A) are tied for fourth on the squad with seven points each.
Under head coach Dan Bylsma’s up-tempo, attacking system, the Penguins defensemen are encouraged to be aggressive and a threat to join the play.
“It’s part of the attack,” Bylsma said. “It’s a time and space read, but we want our defensemen to have the mentality that they’re going to join (the rush). As soon as the puck is transitioned, they need to have that first-step mentality to get into the play. If you wait too long, then you’re reacting too late. It’s something you learn over time and get better at over time.”
“It’s something that as a group we want to continue to do. It’s emphasized in the system that we play for the D to help out,” Martin said. “There’s the right time and spot for it. We’ve been doing a good job so far recognizing that and being able to help out when we can.”
But not any defenseman can be a legit threat on the rush. The Penguins are blessed with a gifted collection of blueliners that have the skill and wheels to do some damage.
“We have really good skaters,” said Letang, who ranks second (tied) in scoring among all NHL defensemen. “Any time we have a chance to join and create chances we have to do it. They can come back. They’re in good shape even if we go on the rush.”
Those talents were on display in the Penguins’ two overtime victories this season. With four-on-four action in the extra frame, both winning goals were scored by Pittsburgh defensemen.
Goligoski, whose three goals are tied for most in the league by a blueliner, scored against the New York Islanders to give Pittsburgh its first win at CONSOL Energy Center on Oct. 15. Letang tallied for the Penguins in a 4-3 win at Nashville Oct. 21. But what fans didn’t see was that both goals started in the defensive zone.
“You may be seeing Kris Letang
and Alex Goligoski jumping into the play more, but it’s not something that can happen overnight,” Bylsma explained. “You have to have that first three steps so that you’re in the play. When Sid pulls up in overtime, Tanger is already in full stride. It looks like he jumped to join the play, but he made that decision back by our goalie when he started skating hard out of the zone. It’s something that we’re getting better at.”
And sometimes the best offensive attack starts in the defensive zone and a strong transition game.
“We’ve done a good job of coming out of our own zone,” Goligoski said. “That has allowed us to get up on the play a lot. When we’re able to do that – get out of our zone quickly and make plays on the rush – it’s easy for us to get up ice and contribute offensively.”
And once the puck is on their stick, the Penguins D has been burying their chances.
“You have to have a conscious effort to put it on the net,” Martin said. “If we have the opportunity they want us to shoot it.”
“They’re always preaching to shoot the puck and get it on net,” Goligoski said. “We just try to get it on net and good things can happen.”