Pens Forwards Tightening Defensive Side

Josh Rowntree
May 04, 2018 - 3:23 pm
Chad Ruhwedel and Matt Murray

Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - The Penguins defensive effort was on display in Thursday's 3-1 Game 4 win over Washington. But, deeper into that performance, the work of Pittsburgh’s forwards was possibly the most impressive display of the night.

Pittsburgh held two of the Capitals’ top line players without a shot, including future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin. The only Washington goal came from T.J. Oshie on the power play.

The series is starting to tighten up after more free-flowing games in the nation’s capital.

“I think Games 3 and 4 were pretty similar,” winger Conor Sheary said after Pittsburgh’s option practice Friday. “There weren’t too many chances, there weren’t too many shots. It was really tight checking. I think if we can stay a little bit more disciplined, I think we’re pretty happy with where we are right now.”

In the Penguins’ Game 3 loss to Washington, Pittsburgh was burned by odd-man rushes, including one that resulted in Ovechkin’s game-winning goal with 1:07 left.

“We wanted to limit their odd-man rushes,” Sheary added. “I think we have up too many of those. It was important for us forwards to be on the right side of the puck and not be hoping for another offensive play.”

On top of sound positional play, the Penguins also got back to more shot blocking, something that helped them to the Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons. Protecting a 2-1 lead late, forwards Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist both blocked shots. Evgeni Malkin altered a shot’s path by laying out as well.

“I think everybody has that mentality,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “Obviously, those are big blocks and big plays. In the playoffs, all those little plays, all those little details are so important.”

While shot blocking may be part of the job description for defenseman, it is not always executed by forwards.

"Everyone contributes that way and, in that case, those were the guys who had to get in those lanes and they did it," Crosby added. "But I really think that, whoever it is, any guy is willing to do that. You need everybody to do that if you want to win.”

The series now turns to Saturday’s pivotal fifth game in Washington, where the Capitals will be looking to get up-and-down the ice more effectively.

“We kept down their odd man rushes,” Hornqvist said. “That’s going to be a big key in this series. They have a lot of firepower up front and we just have to make sure they can’t get those quality chances.”

Since Mike Sullivan took over as coach during the 2015-2016 season, the Penguins have relied greatly on a mix of the team’s trademark, high-flying offense and, when needed, lock-down defense.

“That’s the balance that we have to find," Sullivan said “That’s the balance that we have found when we’ve had success. As talented as our team is and as dynamic as we can be offensively, we have to be a team’s that’s hard to play against. We have to be a team that forces our opponents to work for any sort of chances that they get at our net. I think that’s the formula for success in the playoffs.”