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Insider Only Off-Day Report: On improved defensive mindset; Are Malkin and Neal the best Center-Winger combo in the NHL?


In Dan Bylsma’s three full seasons as head coach (2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012), the Penguins have ranked 20th in goals against (2.87, 2009-2010), 7th in goals against (2.39, 2010-2011), and 17th in goals against last season (2.66, 2011-2012).
What was the difference between the success in 2010-2011 defensively compared to 2009-2010 and 2011-2012?
The answer is Penguins mindset from the players to the coaching staff.
Following a second round playoff exit in 2009-2010 and ranking 20th in goals against, Bylsma’s full focus going into the 2010-2011 season was becoming a better defensive team following the acquisitions of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, and system wise the Penguins also put in place a more stout defensive system.
The team got results but a significant improvement defensively in 2010-2011 compared to 09-10, also came during a period of when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed most or the entire second half of the season due to injuries.
What we saw last year happen is the Penguins issues defensively wasn’t just personnel and bad goaltending in the post-season. They were a flawed team systematically. From the players to the coaching staff, they got too caught up in wanting to play run and gun hockey, especially during the final two months or so of the season and when Sidney Crosby returned in mid-March.
Through two games this season, we’re seeing a different mindset in the Penguins making an emphasis on playing defense and it has started with the coaching staff. Bylsma ran an excellent camp I thought and we’re seen some minor adjustments to the Penguins system, most notably a more defensive strategy being put in place in defending through the neutral zone.
I’m seeing a little more structure defensively with this hockey club so far but will it last as the season progresses?


Paul Martin goes into Wednesday’s home opener no longer being the whipping boy among the fan base for now. Martin who is the most important player on this blueline behind Kris Letang, has gotten off to a great start to the season. He’s playing with confidence and he’s been really tough to beat as he’s doing a good job in keeping players to the outside.
“I think from a defensive standpoint, our team, was a good start for our team,” Bylsma said today. “Paul anchored that heavily with his play in Philadelphia, in particular. Way he played in that game was excellent and the way Paul Martin can play for our team and he was a big part in our win in Philadelphia.”


Is there a better Center-Winger combo in the NHL than Evgeni Malkin and James Neal?
It’s really hard to come up with a better one (Players who play together).
With the size and skill level these two possess, they are really a nightmare to matchup against for teams. In Malkin you got an elite centerman at 6-foot-3 who has all the offensive tools from goal scoring ability to playmaking ability and then Neal on the wing, a 6-foot-2 winger who has one of the most dangerous shots in the game, a threat to score anytime in the offensive zone, and can play a physical game if need be.
The chemistry these two are starting to develop is scary and it’s carried over to this season.


About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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