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Penguins Get Defensive About How to Win Games

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will set a lot of records if they continue to score six goals every time they report for work this season.

They’ll win a lot of games, too.

Probably close to 82 of ’em.

None of that is going to happen, of course, because the Penguins aren’t going to average a half-dozen goals per game for the next six months.

Not when it’s a virtual certainty that some of their most productive players will be sidelined by injury or illness.

Not when there will be nights during which it seems as if there is a force field keeping pucks out of the opponent’s net.

Not when no team in NHL history has averaged more than 5.58 goals per game over the course of a season. (The Edmonton Oilers set that record in 1983-84.)

Then again, it would be folly to suggest that the Penguins’ 6-2 victories over Arizona and Tampa Bay were solely the by-product of prolific offense.

While all the goals they’ve generated have commanded much of the attention as they prepare to face Montreal Monday at 7:08 p.m. at the Bell Centre, their defensive work at even-strength has been equally impressive.

The goal Lightning forward Brayden Point scored when the Penguins were comfortably ahead in the third period Saturday is the only one they gave up during the first two games while playing 5-on-5.

That’s another stat that isn’t going to hold up over the entire season — considering that Calgary allowed a league-low 139 such goals in 2021-22, the Pittsburgh Penguins won’t limit other teams to 41 of them — but it is a reasonable reflection of how they played in their own end against the Coyotes and Lightning.

And there are more than a few other statistics to make the point.

The Penguins outshot those teams, 98-64, and had an even more lopsided edge in high-danger scoring chances.

That’s a subjective stat — opinions on what truly constitutes a high-danger opportunity vary — but it’s hard to misinterpret the advantage the Penguins have run up with both sides at full-strength. Per NaturalStatTrick.com, they have manufactured 33 of those, while allowing just nine.

Factor Tristan Jarry’s .938 save percentage into the defensive equation, and perhaps the biggest surprise should be that the Penguins won each of those first two games by only four.

That they have performed well at both ends of the ice isn’t fortuitous, or even a pleasant coincidence; when a team is effective in one of those facets of the game, it tends to spark a synergy that enhances the other.

“We’ve done a really good job of playing on our toes, and creating some extended (offensive)-zone time,” Brian Dumoulin said, noting that that leads to opponents dumping the puck into the Penguins’ end rather than carrying it there.

That’s made it easier for the Penguins to regain possession of the puck without being seriously challenged because the other team is focused on getting fresh players onto the ice rather than establishing a significant forecheck, thus giving the Penguins an opportunity to take the play back into the attacking end.

That, of course, translates to more opportunities to generate shots and quality scoring chances.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have 80 regular-season games remaining, so it is much too early to reach any conclusions about them, positive or otherwise. But if they can maintain their commitment to playing well defensively, it should bode well for their prospects of stretching their streak of playoff appearances to 17.

“Every game, we’re learning,” Jarry said. “Every game is a different situation, different scenarios we can learn from. We’re doing a great job of being able to implement it in practice and be able to work on things. We’ve come together.”

So far, the Penguins’ numbers prove it.

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Mark Miller
Mark Miller
1 month ago

Seeing this nice way to start, the pill gets harder to swallow later in season. Meaning we see this great play now and when they have a slight downer the world ends. They are looking like a jelling team. LGP