FF Telestrator: Crosby's Defense Taking Center Stage
Earlier this week I had the chance to participate in the Pittsburgh Magazine Mega Roundtable
where Sean Conboy took the time to ask several “vaguely esteemed” hockey writers, myself included, to answer a gamut of questions about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The conversation turned towards the presence of Jacques Martin with the Pittsburgh Penguins and what his hire meant for the team.
Personally, it was my belief that one of the main contributors to the hire of Martin was the Penguins inability to crack the 2-3 neutral zone trap they’d encountered in the playoffs against both Montreal in 2010 and Boston in 2013.
Martin, a coach who essentially wrote the book on how to frustrate and shut down the Penguins, certainly would have the key to reversing those trends from within the organization.
But in the conversation, Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review made another point that I thought was fairly salient as well.
Here’s Rob’s quote from the above roundtable, we’re about to see this in action in just a second.
“The narrative on Martin is mostly misunderstood. Martin was not hired for Letang. He was hired for Crosby and Malkin. They wanted somebody to teach transition offense. Bylsma wanted Martin (it was Bylsma’s suggestion) because he planned to adopt a defensive system that would generate turnovers in the neutral zone.”
So, with that thought in mind, we look back at the recent 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals that extended the Penguins home win streak to 13 games and padded the cushion they currently have on the Metropolitan Division.
I want to look at one shift specifically for the Penguins that garnered two good scoring chances that only took place because of what Sidney Crosby did defensively.
Here’s the beginning of the sequence. The Capitals are two men strong on a breakout. This play is just developing. Take a look at where Sidney Crosby is. He’s the first forward back in this sequence and is in a great defensive posture to disrupt this play and make a quick read.
This is how transition offense begins.
Capitals forward Mikhail Grabovski initiates a drop pass to his center who is trailing the play.
Crosby is all over this. And while the drop pass itself wasn’t too smart, Crosby is there to retrieve it and start this play the other way.
Look at this still, the Capitals forwards are all heading one direction. This play is about to flip on it’s head and the every white jersey on the ice is going the wrong way.
Crosby finds Kunitz, who has a head of steam, cutting straight through the neutral zone. The Capitals defense is essentially starting to get back in this play from a complete stop.
Kunitz got a breakaway out of this. And while he didn’t score, the Penguins transition offense generated via center gave them a prime scoring chance early in this game.
But wait, we aren’t done yet.
Just as this play is coming out of the zone, Crosby is going to rob Brooks Laich and give the Penguins another prime chance because of his defensive ability.
Remember, this is the same shift.
As the Capitals clear the leftovers of the Kunitz chance, Brooks Laich attempts to break the puck out of the zone.
Crosby is draped all over him, and with the clean swipe of a stick, the puck is left for Brandon Sutter.
The Capitals are going the wrong way again.
Sutter makes a chip play to Chris Kunitz, who is off to the races for the second time in under 30 seconds courtesy of a Crosby defensive play.
Take a look at the players in the red circles. They’re both flatfooted, attempting to react to a quick change in direction that’s about to test the mettle of their goaltender in a big way.
We sit in awe of what Crosby can do offensively, but make no bones about it, Jacques Martin’s finger prints are on these superstar centers on a nightly basis.
It’s one of the reasons that Brandon Sutter has only been present for 17 goals against at even strength this season.
If the Penguins can work their transition offense into their playoff gameplan, they’ll see the fruits of it on the scoreboard.