Kovacevic: Time to move, and skate, forward
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Blow by blow, Dan Bylsma made his point on the dry-erase board to open the Penguins' practice Thursday: Skate forward, pass forward, shoot forward, eat, sleep, drink and dress like a bear forward.
Bylsma then backed the point puck by puck, blowing the whistle through several of the simplest drills you'll see, all forward all the time.
Believe it or not, they were working on defense.
For the Penguins, moving forward is the defense.
It has to be.
Let's start by dispelling an unfortunately burgeoning myth: The perceived dip in defense has nothing to do with Sidney Crosby's return. In fact, there's been no real dip at all: The team had a 2.67 goals-against average in January, 2.62 in February and 2.80 in March with Crosby.
Fact is, the Penguins aren't a great defensive team. Haven't been all season. There's a reason some of these players were calling Marc-Andre Fleury the team's MVP even while touting Evgeni Malkin as league MVP. They know how often Fleury bails them out.
Fleury was good enough to do that in the 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1, too, except for one thing: His teammates stopped moving forward.
Everything from Ray Shero's shaping of the roster to Bylsma's the-puck-is-ours system to the players' standard mindset is predicated on the attack. And yet, over and over Wednesday, the Penguins failed to go "north," to borrow one of Bylsma's favorite terms. They made senseless lateral passes. They retreated when they should have forechecked. They tried to beat defensemen at the Philadelphia blueline rather than simply dumping it behind them and forcing the Flyers to travel the full 200 feet to score.
The latter, in particular, shouldn't have been a novel concept with a three-goal lead.
Philadelphia's forwards, thus, were afforded ample opportunity to follow Peter Laviolette's plan of slipping pucks — and people — behind the Penguins' defense. The Flyers found a way to play where they wanted, how they wanted, pretty much as often as they wanted.
"You saw the first period: We played in our zone and paid the price," Philadelphia right winger Daniel Briere said of the Penguins' 3-0 start. "The rest of the way, I thought we did a much better job of putting their defensemen to work, making them turn and go get pucks. It's something we have to do."
And that's because, as Flyers left winger Brayden Schenn said, "They're an offensive bunch over there. When they have a lot of offensive guys, they don't like playing in their own end."
The Penguins looked like they outright hated it: Jordan Staal lost track of Jakub Voracek on the OT goal. Kris Letang failed to intercept the harmless-looking pass to Voracek. Crosby screened Fleury on an earlier goal. Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek ... well, you know.
But that's goal-line defense, and not even the '75 Steelers were great in the shadows of goal posts.
These Penguins aren't exactly the Blues or Devils in their own zone. When they're flatfooted, they're a mess. And that's all the more reason to get to the other end with a purpose and stick around awhile.
"We had chances to put the puck behind them, chip it in like we did in the first period. We had a chance to make a statement about how we manage the puck with a three-goal lead," Bylsma said afterward. "We didn't do that."
Bylsma emphasized that with a morning-after video presentation.
"If you watch the second half of the game, they chipped the puck on us every single time," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "So we got to watch all their plays and how many times they got to hit our defensemen. They just played a simple game. They created everything off their forecheck. That's something we can learn from."
It might be the only practical lesson, actually.
Look, this isn't to suggest the Penguins will right themselves with Xs and Os alone. There's much on which they can improve, not least of which are a sharper power play with Steve Sullivan expected back on the point, a ton more from the Evgeni Malkin line and a whole new level of urgency.
But the Penguins just being the Penguins will be paramount.
Game 1 Penguins vs. Flyers 4⁄11/12
The Flyers defeat the Penguins, 4-3 in overtime, in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- New Florence man charged with killing police officer
- Rossi: It’s past time for NFL to protect players
- Steelers stalled by Seahawks, on outside of AFC wild-card picture
- Steelers players say they support Tomlin’s attempts at deception
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger reported symptoms that led to his exit vs. Seahawks
- Family of man accused of shooting St. Clair officer say allegations don’t fit his character
- Steelers notebook: Seahawks’ Sherman gets better of WR Brown
- Re-enactor commits to pioneer lifestyle in Murrysville cabin
- Week 12 — Steelers-Seahawks gameday grades
- University of Pittsburgh researchers revisit war of electric currents
- The lessons of time