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Insider Only Penguins X’s & O’s: Youth Shines, Top-Lines excel defensively in forcing poor zone entries from Hurricanes

Penguins 3 – Hurricanes 1


GAME LEADERS

Casey DeSmith | 34 Saves, .971 SV%
J.S. Dea | Goal (1), 1 SOG, 5:35 TOI
Dominik Simon | Goal (2), 3 SOG, 10:52 TOI
Sidney Crosby | Assist, 1 SOG, 72.7 FO%
Jake Guentzel | Goal (15), 1 SOG, 9:40 TOI


Since the Carolina Hurricanes embarrassed the Penguins on Pittsburgh’s home ice in early January, the Penguins are now 6-3.

The Hurricanes by contrast are slowly falling out of the playoff picture and 2-6 since their win vs Pittsburgh on Jan 4.

What we saw tonight in the Penguins 3-1 win at the PPG Paints Arena was how much the Penguins have improved in certain areas since they were a floundering club 3-4 weeks ago.

Previous matchups this season vs the Hurricanes saw Pittsburgh badly struggle with the Hurricanes quickness and transition game.

Not Tuesday night.

A more quicker, skilled lineup was on display again in tonight’s win from the Penguins and a much better commitment to their d-zone structure in supporting each other defensively.

In the victory, Pittsburgh got goals from Dominik Simon, J.S. Dea and Jake Guentzel as Pittsburgh closed out the game with three unanswered goals after Carolina opened the scoring first in the second period.

Solid play from all four lines highlighted the win as Pittsburgh outscored Carolina 3-1 during 5-on-5 play.

After falling behind 1-0, Dominik Simon scored his 2nd of the season from the right circle off the rush and a 1:16 later in a 1-1 game, Bryan Rust chased down a loose puck and found a streaking Dea driving to the net for his first NHL goal to put the Penguins ahead.

When the Penguins were floundering in December, what they had at their disposal were internal options to improve the roster. That has played out here with Dominik Simon meshing well so far with Sidney Crosby on the first line, while a 4th line Tuesday night of Bryan Rust and J.S. Dea is a lot quicker of a line than any combination of Carter Rowney/Ryan Reaves for example.

“J.S. has always been a guy that can really skate, and he can shoot the puck and he can score,” Mike Sullivan said of Dea.

Back to his club playing much faster of late, what Sullivan continues to like is the Penguins starting to generate offense much more consistently from depth players.

“It takes a little bit of pressure off of our star guys that we rely on to generate offense night in and night out,” said Sullivan.


X & O’s

Another sign to feel good about where the Penguins are headed is the commitment to playing the right way defensively is starting to be there on a more consistent basis.

Yes, there were some defensive breakdowns in the second period that Casey DeSmith bailed the group out but in the third period when holding a lead, there was more good than bad.

The Crosby and Malkin lines were really impressive in the third period during a 1-goal game with how well the units defended in the neutral zone and off zone entries from the Hurricanes.

What the Penguins did really well was force the Hurricanes into making uncomfortable zone entries.

Pittsburgh consistently had a wave up of support at their own blueline followed by excellent pressure on the puck carrier.

Mid-way through the third period In back-to-back shifts from the Crosby/Malkin lines prior to the Jake Guentzel, the Penguins put on some great film defensively where they gave the Hurricanes little space.


EXAMPLE 1

 

Clearing Zone 

*The Penguins are in perfect setup through their neutral zone setup, Crosby forces a pass to the strong side and Matt Hunwick provides immediate pressure to stunt the Hurricanes zone entry leading to less than three seconds of zone time. What the Penguins also had was a wall of support with their man-to-man coverage in front and behind the puck.

The puck support defensively from Sidney Crosby was excellent as moments later the Hurricanes are thwarted again on a zone entry.

Jamie Oleksiak steps up at the blueline and Sidney Crosby is immediately in the perfect spot as the next line of defense, taking Brock McGinn out of the play and clearing the zone. The defensive rotation was as good as it gets from Crosby on that shift.


EXAMPLE 2

The very next shift the Malkin line also put on a display of text-book defensive hockey. Here the Penguins through their neutral zone trap force the Hurricanes to Pittsburgh’s strong side defensively that leads to a dump-in.

As the Hurricanes gain possession in the corner, they get 5 seconds or less of zone time again as Olli Maatta takes his man out in the corner and Evgeni Malkin is right there with center support Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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