Forget the Point: Why the Pittsburgh Penguins will Collapse
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been collapsing for the last six games, and they’ve won every one of those games. The realization even more frightening is that the Pens will continue to collapse. Enough of the annoying collapse metaphors. Let’s get to the bottom of why the Pens collapsing is good for the future.
Many hockey players, coaches and fans are under the wrong impression when trying to successfully play defensive-zone coverage. When your team is defending in their defensive zone, many players are told to play man-on-man defense. Pick up your guy, and stick with him everywhere he goes in the defensive zone. The center and two defenseman are responsible for playing three-on-three down low in the defensive zone. The two wingers are told to camp out on an island and have a conversation with the opposing point-man from the opposing team, unless the puck comes up there of course.
My name isn’t Scotty Bowman, but this is a terrible way to play defensive-zone coverage. Where would you rather give up a shot? Do you want Steven Stamkos taking a wrist shot from the middle of the slot or do you want Rob Scuderi taking a slap shot from a foot inside the blue-line?
This is a no-brainer. If you want to play quality defensive-zone coverage, you must have the wingers collapse down inside of the slot or the house area. By having wingers hang out in the house area, this minimizes scoring chances for opponents. If a defenseman or the center get beat by an opposing player down low, the winger can then challenge that opponent and keep the opponent from scoring or creating a quality scoring chance.
If the wingers collapse, as in the example provided above, the points will be open. As previously stated, any NHL coach will tell you theyâ€™d rather surrender a shot from the point than in the house area. In addition, if a winger has collapsed and their point-man ends up with the puck, that winger can close in on the point-man with a good chance to block the shot or having someone else block the shot. As long as someone steps into the shooting lane, there is a very unlikely chance the shot from the point is going to end up in your net. Think of the percentages. Are more goals scored from the point or in the house?
This is exactly what the Pens have been doing in their past six games while surrendering only six goals and winning three one-goal games in that same span. The wingers have been collapsing into the house area, helping out their teammates down low, and drastically minimizing scoring chances in the process. Their defense has been sensational and has been night and day since the beginning of this season. The Pens are making it an extremely difficult task for teams to gain any space in the middle of their defensive zone.
Not only have the wingers collapsed to help out down low and in the house area in the defensive zone, but every Pens player on the ice is clogging the house area while defending within their own blue line. The majority of opponents’ shots are coming from the perimeter and outside of the house area.
“Weâ€™re being a little more patient and I think our forwards are collapsing a lot better,” said Brooks Orpik. The Pens’ forwards are thinking defense and showing evidence of it. They are not trying to fly the zone (leaving the defensive zone too early). “I think the biggest thing is just being patient,” said Orpik. “A lot of times when you get that big gap and separation coming out of the zone, the forwards get too far ahead. If there is a turnover, it’s tough for them to recover.”
Issues inside of their own blue line have been the Pensâ€™ main focus of concern for the majority of the season, but the Pens are finally playing as one unit, together, in their defensive zone. Their defensive numbers speak volumes of late. If the Pens continue to make defense a priority with a team as offensively gifted as they are, the sky is the limit for this team. Scoring is not a problem.
“I think it was something that has been in our minds for a while,” said Sidney Crosby. “It just takes time to see it and identify it and to kind of repeat it too. Itâ€™s a process. Thatâ€™s really what it comes down too, is doing it every night.â€
Now that the Pens are playing team defense every night and making defense a priority, they are gaining confidence that they are able to hold leads in tight games. This confidence will carry over into the postseason and propel the Penguins deep into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is something Pens’ fans have not witnessed in a few years.