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Penguins Maintain Focus in "Trap" Game

by Tom Mast / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins remain focused going into Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers, a game that many would consider a “trap” game. With the New Jersey coming to town Saturday, this game could easily be looked over, but the team insists that is definitely not the case.

“We always prepare for the team we’re playing,” Sidney Crosby said. “I don’t think that’s something we ever really worry about. We never look ahead. You need points each and every game. So there’s no real need to look past anybody.”

The Panthers sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with only two wins on the season. Florida is coming off of a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday. A team that’s coming off of a big loss always has a chance to be a dangerous opponent.

In direct contrast to the Panthers, the Penguins have been racking up the points, winning six games in a row. But head coach Dan Bylsma warned that the team cannot simply coast through Friday’s game.

“(The Panthers) are approaching the game differently than a team that’s rolling,” Bylsma said. “There is a different psyche going into that game. This is a bit of a response game for them coming off the Buffalo game when they especially didn’t start well.

“I’m sure they are looking to respond. I’m sure they have been challenged and are a little more attentive than they were last game. They are coming into our building and they expect the type of game we played last game so I think they will be ready to go.”

Tomorrow really doesn’t matter. We’ve got to focus on tonight. That’s our challenge. (Florida is) going to come in here and play hard against us. We have to make sure we’re doing all the right things and our game’s where it needs to be to be successful. - Matt Cooke
Bylsma’s message is coming through loud and clear to his players. Right now they don’t want to have anything to do with Saturday’s New Jersey game. Their focus is on Florida, and that’s it.

“(Saturday) really doesn’t matter,” forward Matt Cooke said. “We’ve got to focus on tonight. That’s our challenge. (Florida is) going to come in here and play hard against us. We have to make sure we’re doing all the right things and our game’s where it needs to be to be successful.”

If the past several games are any indication, this team is truly serious about their focus. The game against a struggling Tampa Bay Lightning team (who also were coming off a big loss when they visited Mellon Arena), and a Western Conference match up against the St. Louis Blues could have easily been taken lightly by the team. No such thing happened. The team is still aiming skyward.

“The focus for our team is we still can play better hockey,” Bylsma said. “Inside our dressing room right now there is a ‘we can get better, we can still play a better game and we need to get better’ mentality. That is the challenge. We still need to maintain our focus and not be satisfied with getting those points early on. We are still trying to get better.”

Instead of letting off the gas when the wins started to pile up, the Penguins turned on the afterburners, playing what Bylsma called the team’s “most complete game” this season in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over St. Louis. He hopes to top that effort Friday night against Florida.

“I think the (St. Louis) game was probably the closest game to what we are looking for, especially the first 30 or 40 minutes,” Bylsma said. “We set the tone in the first (period), continuing on and having a good second period, looking up at the shot and zone time and saying ‘we are dictating and controlling the game.’

“We are nine games deep into the season. One game like (the St. Louis game) does not mean you are good yet, but there is a certain anticipation about this game that can we prove this is the kind of team we can be night in and night out, whether it’s the St. Louis Blues, the Florida Panthers or a rivalry game. We need to have the same mentality that we are going to establish ourselves and play at a pace we dictate for 60 minutes and not leave the game in doubt. That is the challenge tonight.”

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