Penguins renew dedication to defensive responsibility early on
Goal prevention historically never has been the Penguins' strength. Playing prudent hockey never has been their preference.
This season's sample size is small, but through two games something has been different.
Defensive responsibility, safety with the puck and a gentler approach to triggering their offense has been evident in the Penguins' play.
Does this indicate a difference in the Penguins' system or mindset?
It depends whom you ask, but one thing is clear: Coach Dan Bylsma's system is different.
“We're definitely playing more passively in the neutral zone, making it harder for teams to come through the zone with any speed,” left wing Tanner Glass said. “It's worked.”
No one disputes that Bylsma has tinkered with his system. However, some maintain that the Penguins' patience with the puck — albeit against two of the league's more impotent offenses in New Jersey and Buffalo — is more attributable to a team-wide desire to play smarter hockey.
“It's definitely more of a mindset, in my opinion,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We're trying to be really sharp defensively, and so far we have been. I think the third man high in the (offensive) zone has been very good.”
The Penguins have been charged with only seven giveaways through two games. New Jersey and Buffalo, meanwhile, have been guilty of a combined 16 turnovers.
The Penguins have led the league in scoring the past two seasons. However, loose defensive play cost them two seasons ago in the playoffs against Philadelphia and nearly was their undoing in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Islanders.
No Penguins player has been charged with more than one turnover this season.
“It's a team-wide thing,” Glass said. “Everyone is doing their best to play smart, making a concerted effort to be good defensively.”
The Penguins have permitted only one clear-cut, odd-man rush during their first two games, when defenseman Matt Niskanen's shot was blocked, giving New Jersey forward Adam Henrique a breakaway. Niskanen ultimately hooked Henrique, resulting in a penalty shot that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped.
Right wing Craig Adams, who always has played a simple, safe game, admits that his teammates still are adjusting to the stylistic change.
“It's a slight change,” he said. “I'm sure we'll continue to work on it and possibly have the option of doing other things as well. It's something we started in camp and we're still getting comfortable with it.”
Captain Sidney Crosby didn't point a finger at the team's mindset or system for some of its defensive work.
“Look at our defensemen,” he said. “Those guys are really good. Their gap has been great. They're making it hard on other teams to do much.
“I really think our commitment to defense is there.”