The Pittsburgh Penguins locker room mostly cleared out Saturday afternoon after the Penguins 20-minute abbreviated practice session. Players worked on a few individual skills. A few centers worked on faceoffs, wingers worked on one-timers in the slot then most players headed to the locker room.
While reporters picked over the locker room asking the obvious but necessary questions before getting to our particular areas of interest, the Penguins defensemen were noticeably absent.
Nearly 30 minutes after practice, the Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen were still on the ice getting a workout with assistant coach Sergei Gonchar. The defensemen were working a simple drill with obvious intent.
The defensemen stepped forward from the blue line as Gonchar fed passes from the mid-wall and the defensemen blasted one-timers toward the net. Again and again.
Tactically, the New York Islanders like to pack the slot. When the Penguins work the puck to the low zone, four and sometimes five Islanders defenders can be seen below the dots which opens up the low-to-high game.
Perhaps the Penguins will take full advantage, Sunday afternoon.
Without reading too much into practice drills, the Penguins defensemen could open up the offensive zone with more shots into traffic from the high zone. The Penguins defensemen have already accounted for some of the Penguins sparse offense in the series.
Justin Schultz tied Game 1 and Erik Gudbranson scored the Penguins lone goal in Game 2. Both were slapshots from the point.
The Penguins defensemen have offensively outperformed their New York counterparts in the series with 19 shots, 11 scoring chances and three high-danger chances (according to NaturalStatTrick.com). Interestingly, the Penguins high-danger chances were on the sticks of Brian Dumoulin, Jack Johnson, and Marcus Pettersson; the three left side defensemen who are generally defensive defensemen.
The New York defenders have only seven shots on goal, seven scoring chances, and one high-danger chance.
Because the defensemen were still on the ice long after practice ended, we did not get a chance to speak with the rank and file blueliners. In addition to Letang telling Pittsburgh Hockey Now that the Penguins film study showed vast improvement against the New York forecheck, Letang also offered this Penguins offense assessment:
“I think we have to do a better job offensively to hold onto pucks. They play a man-on-man kind of style in their zone and it allows you to have a little bit room to create offensively but you have to hold onto the puck a little bit more.”
Sunday, watch for the Penguins defensemen to take that space especially at the top of the zone and blast away.
The Penguins trail in the best of seven series 2-0. Win Sunday and it is a series. Lose Sunday, and the implications may be far bigger than just early tee times. No pressure.