The Penguins 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens not only gave them an NHL-leading 17 wins through Wednesday’s early games, it continued a trend that has been built as the team has won three-consecutive games and five of their past six – a return to the brand of hockey endorsed by head coach Dan Bylsma.
There is no secret to how Bylsma wants to see his club play the game. When his squad is executing his system they are maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone, imposing their physical will on the opposition, generating a plethora of scoring chances and getting quality goaltending at the opposite end of the rink. All of these facets were on display as the final score between the Penguins and Canadiens was not indicative of the way Pittsburgh dominated throughout.
“Yeah, the last three games have been wins, pretty well,” Max Talbot said. “It’s nice to play that way. We want to take pride in being an elite team. In that way we need to play with no doubt and that’s how we played.”
Montreal was coming off a 5-3 win Tuesday night in Columbus and didn’t get into Pittsburgh until early Wednesday morning, and the Penguins wanted to take advantage of their tired legs.
“They played last night and traveled,” Bylsma said. “We wanted to play a game at our tempo and pace. If you play in the offensive zone and they have to work to get to the red line and dump it in, that’s how you wear down a team. Numerous times we were able to do that. You have to keep playing that way.
“You want to take advantage of that opportunity and keep playing the way that forces them to deal with your skill and speed as you tire them out. At times we did that very well.”
Pittsburgh dominated the attack time in the Montreal end of the rink, the tone for which was set by the fourth line of Craig Adams
, Eric Godard and Mike Rupp four minutes into the game. They kept the puck hemmed in the Montreal zone for nearly a full minute, with Godard nearly beating Carey Price to the short side with his shot from the left side of the net.
“Godsy played a great game and had some great chances,” said Sidney Crosby
, who scored the game’s first goal. “He was tough in their zone. You couldn’t take the puck off him. Rupper and Adsy and those guys were really tough to play against.”
Following that shift the rest of the team jumped on board and got pucks deep into the Montreal zone, treating goaltender Carey Price as if he were target practice with 30 shots on net, including 16 in the second period when the Penguins put the game away with goals from Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar.
“We know how we need to play,” Crosby said. “It is much more fun to play that way. We play with a lot of speed and we are tough to play against. We hold on to the puck and we make things easier on ourselves. That is something we want to continue.”
When the Penguins are executing their system properly, they will wear the other team down over the first two periods and then close the deal in the third period. Despite Max Pacioretty’s goal at 7:17 of the final frame, Pittsburgh was able to do this against the Canadiens, limiting them to only four shots on goal in the third and 19 over the course of the game as the Penguins outhit the Canadiens by a 45-34 margin.
“We want (the third) to be our strongest period,” Godard said. “We want to start off grinding and wear teams down. In the third that is when it pays off and we will get to spend extra time in the offensive zone.”
The Penguins did have one minor breakdown at the tail end of a power play less than three minutes after Pacioretty got Montreal on the board, but the final element of 'Bylsma hockey,' solid goaltending, was there in the form of Marc-Andre Fleury
’s left catchers mitt.
Ryan O’Byrne sneaked into the slot area and took a centering pass from Tomas Plekanec. O’Byrne ticketed a shot for the upper left corner of the net, but Fleury had other ideas with a spectacular save.
“That is the kind of goaltender we have back there – he makes the big save at the right time,” Bylsma said. “He flashed the glove and I enjoyed seeing it go in the air, that’s for sure.”
Fleury’s save punctuated a near-perfect performance by the Penguins. As happy as they were with the way they executed the system, the Penguins expect themselves to continue playing an aggressive, puck possession game as they face a stretch of three games in four days beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday in Long Island.
“I think that’s one of the strengths of our team, puck possession,” Guerin said. “When we’re not stubborn, when we’re just playing our game and we’re getting it in and we’re not trying to dazzle everybody we get pucks into the other teams end and we try to hold on to it. The idea is to try to wear everybody down and it’s been effective for us. That’s exactly what we try to get to.”