PHILADELPHIA – The Penguins are known to have one of the NHL’s most-potent offenses.
That’s natural when you have guys like Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal up front.
Opponents are discovering Pittsburgh has a pretty good defense, too, and those guys are solid two-way players.
The Penguins produced another stifling defensive performance Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals as they limited the Flyers to eight shots through the first two periods and posted a 4-1 win.
“I think it’s something that’s not talked about a lot here just because of the stars we have up top,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think it’s just team defense. Everyone is committed here to playing defense. We know if we play good defense, we have so much talent here that we’re going to score goals. It’s just something you stress – don’t cheat offensively because the goals will come if you play well defensively. I think that’s shown throughout the playoffs so far.”
Indeed. The Penguins’ offense is actually created by their defense.
“This is a young team playing a mature game and they’re all committed defensively,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “This is what I like about our team. When you’re committed defensively, you give yourself a chance to win. Our focus is there, and I like our chance right now.”
The task of committing to defense first has been an easy one for this Penguins squad to accept.
“I don't think it’s difficult. We all depend on each other and we realize everyone has that responsibility, and we don’t want to let the guy next to us down,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We know we’re depended on to play that way, and that is the only way you’re going to win is if you’re working hard in your own zone to get back and do those little things defensively. So, we’ve seen it work firsthand. The more that you can play well defensively, the less you’re chasing and the better opportunities you get offensively.”
The Penguins certainly displayed that Tuesday night as they suffocated the Flyers. Philadelphia managed just eight shots through the first two periods and settled for 18 for the game.
“Especially the first two periods we didn’t give them much at all. I think you have to give Marc-Andre Fleury credit because he didn’t see a lot in the first two periods, and when he did see some shots he was solid and sharp,” Crosby said. “In the third they came with a little more and he was more than ready. A lot of people don’t realize how tough that is for a goaltender, especially one who sees more than that typically. And he was mentally sharp throughout the whole game.”
Fleury was strong and increased his playoff record to an NHL-best 11-1 this season.
“It just seems like everybody is stepping up their game and it’s going pretty well for us,” he said. “The defense did a good job in front of me blocking shots and taking away rebounds. The forwards are coming back hard in our zone and they are doing a good job not allowing the other teams to come into our zone easily.”
The Penguins emphasized limiting Philadelphia’s offensive chances from the slot and forced their shooters to the outside.
“We try to make sure the shots they get are from the outside and they are not getting too many from the slot. That’s a big thing,” Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. “The rebounds that pop out, we’re trying to make sure we tie up sticks and grab bodies there. We did a pretty good job. I think there are still things we can work on and improve upon and get ready for Game 4.”
Overall, though, the Penguins’ team defense seems to improve every game. Pittsburgh has allowed only five Flyers goals.
“We have a lot of great, great players up from that are doing a great job. But, our defense is really getting overlooked, I think,” Malone said. “They did a great job in Game 3. If there is a little fumble back there, Marc-Andre has been there. From top to bottom, it’s been a team effort.”