Pens insider: Looking to break out vs. Bruins
The Penguins will not break up their breakout blueprint.
Not even for those Big Bad Bruins.
“Initially, their forecheck, the structure, is not a whole lot different than most teams,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “After the first play or two is made, and we're starting to come out of the (defensive) zone, is where the difference might be.
“Their defensemen are a little bit more selective on pinching. They will pinch at times and try to keep pucks alive to the extra guy up in the forecheck, but they're a little bit more selective when they do that — and they're pretty smart at it, too.”
The Eastern Conference final that begins later this week offers fascinating matchups but perhaps none more potentially scales-tipping than the Penguins' breakout passing versus the Bruins' aggressive forecheck.
The Penguins prefer to move the puck quickly among defensemen, work for chip-in opportunities in the neutral zone and win races for the puck in the offensive zone. This process maintains flow and ultimately allows forwards to seize the advantage they have over most defensemen.
Opposing defenders do not succeed when trying to skate with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. None can match the skill of those centers, and few can contend well with the Penguins' top-six wingers, either.
This is how the Penguins grind down opponents over a best-of-seven series. When it works — as it did against Ottawa in Round 2 — a lesser foe crumbles.
Even a mighty foe, such as defending champion Detroit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, has struggled when the Penguins are getting to their game, to borrow a phrase from coach Dan Bylsma.
The Bruins defense, led by Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, is punishing but hardly fleet-footed, especially when attempting own-zone defense.
The speed-skill combination possessed by Toronto's forwards flummoxed Bruins defensemen during Round 1. That series went the distance, and Boston's back end often looked slow.
The New York Rangers, with an unclear offensive approach, struggled to create offensively against the Bruins, whose forecheck was particularly impactful in a five-game Round 2 series.
These Penguins are hardly the Rangers, especially with skilled puck-movers on the back end such as Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Niskanen.
Those players gave Ottawa's forecheck fits.
“Boston is similar to Ottawa,” Letang said. “The (first forward) is in really hard on you. The second one is coming in, and the third guy is up high. Their defensemen are conservative on one side, but on the far side they're aggressive.”
So the Penguins will adjust to the Bruins by … standing pat. They are confident their puck movement is a tough matchup for the Bruins' forecheck.
The Penguins especially aim to make the minutes that Chara plays — more than 29 per game in the playoffs — hard, troubling time on the ice, Letang said.
“It's all about transition for us,” Letang said. “They want to play him a lot of minutes, and if you turn the puck over, he's going to stay on the ice and manage his time. If you don't turn it over, get it out, then chip it back in, he's skating back and forth. That's where you get him.”
That all starts in the defensive zone, Letang said.
He and his fellow defensemen know entering the East final that they need to get out of their own end quickly.