The Penguins complete their four-game home stand with a showdown against the best team in the National Hockey League. The San Jose Sharks visit Mellon Arena Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. contest against Pittsburgh.
“When we get chances we have to make sure we capitalize on those chances,” head coach Michel Therrien said. “That’s a type of team that doesn’t give you a lot of chances. It’s crucial to get the lead. When you get the lead, you play with more confidence. You don’t want to give up the lead. It’s important to get a good start.”
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings the past three seasons, has instituted a hybrid system in San Jose, built on speed and discipline. The team plays a defensive, puck-possession style similar to Detroit. However, McLellan allows his team to play more up tempo to utilize its greatest asset – speed.
“They’re similar in their systems and their discipline,” Sidney Crosby
said. “They’re defensive but they still have an aggressive style. Their (defense) pinches a little bit more. They put a lot of pressure on the wingers so that’s probably an area that’s similar to Detroit. They put some pressure on you along the wall.”
“I think San Jose is a little more wide open than Detroit is,” Brooks Orpik
said. “They’re pretty fast teams, pretty skilled teams. McLellan is the coach there. He came from Detroit so there are probably some similarities.”
You can’t argue with the results of McLellan’s stratagem. The Sharks have the best record in the Western Conference with a 36-7-7 mark for 79 points. They have the fewest regulation losses and have the best winning percentage in the league. San Jose ranks third in both offense and defense. The Sharks have played on the perfect threshold between aggressive and responsible.
“I think it goes back to team speed really,” Orpik said. “Their transition game is pretty good. They have a couple defensemen in (Christian) Ehrhoff and (Dan) Boyle, who are two of the best in the game. They have fast forwards.”
McLellan’s system is designed to take advantage of San Jose’s speed. The team’s swiftness is emphasized in all facets of the game, from the team’s defensive positioning, transition game or pinching blueliners. The Sharks want to carry the play and create odd-man advantages. San Jose's speed was a factor in its 2-1 win against Pittsburgh Oct. 28.
We’ve played some good hockey the last few games. You get rewarded for doing the right things and playing hard. Hopefully, we get rewarded. - Sidney Crosby
“They do a good job of playing possum and hanging back, making you pay for even the smallest mistakes,” Rob Scuderi said. “When we played them earlier this year, a couple times we just had a turnover at the blue line or maybe an errant pass and all of a sudden they’re getting chances and cycling in our zone for 30 seconds. If we keep it simple and not beat ourselves, we’ll have a good chance.”
“For us, it doesn’t really change a whole lot,” Crosby said. “We know what to do against teams that are disciplined like that. We pride ourselves on playing a pretty strong game in that sense too. I don’t think a lot changes from our standpoint.”
The schedule should also benefit Pittsburgh. San Jose plays Tuesday night in Boston against the NHL point-leading (85) Bruins. It will be a battle for NHL supremacy – the Bruins have six more points but have played four more games than the Sharks.
“We’ll rest up here; they have to play to play (Tuesday) in Boston so hopefully that’s somewhat of an advantage for us,” Orpik said.
The Penguins are off to a good start with a 2-1-0 record on their current home stand. Pittsburgh edged Tampa Bay, 4-3, and Columbus, 4-1, before falling to Detroit, 3-0, on Sunday. The team would love to finish the stretch on a positive note against the Sharks and improve their positioning in the standings.
“(San Jose) is a puck-possession team,” Therrien said. “They’ve got experience. This is a good hockey team. (Wednesday) won’t be any easier.”
“We’ve played some good hockey the last few games,” Crosby said. “It comes down to execution and we didn’t execute (Sunday). It’s not fun but at the same time you get rewarded for doing the right things and playing hard. Hopefully, we get rewarded.”