Penguins Update: Ivory Soap Defense Won’t Leave a Mark – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Ivory Soap Defense Won’t Leave a Mark

Back in the day, Ivory Soap boasted that it was so pure it wouldn’t leave a bathtub ring. As presently constructed the Penguins’ defense could make a similar claim. It won’t leave a mark.

pp0500Losing rugged Robert Bortuzzo to injury certainly hasn’t helped. In his absence GM Jim Rutherford assembled a defense that’s built for the Autobahn, not NHL gridlock.

It reminds me of the 1990-91 squad. For a 35-game stretch the black-and-gold defense featured gifted puck movers Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, and Zarley Zalapski.

The high-octane blend failed.

“We were in Calgary and there was a replay of a play around the net and the camera was from above and every Calgary Flames player was around our goal cage,” said Paul Steigerwald. “We had no presence in front of our net whatsoever.”

Sound familiar? It should. He could be describing our present-day defense.

A lack of physicality on the blue line is only part of the Pens’ problem. A flawed philosophy is another.

“We can’t play on our heels,” coach Mike Johnston lamented following Thursday’s frustrating come-from-in-front overtime loss to Detroit. “We have to play on our toes.”

Sounds suspiciously like ex-coach Dan Bylsma’s assertion that the Pens wanted to play in the other team’s zone 70 percent of the time.

Understandable for sure. After all, you don’t score goals from your own end. Still, you must be prepared for the eventuality that opponents will force you to play defense. Sometimes for extended periods.

It comes as no surprise that the offensive-minded Pens have had difficulty protecting a lead. More often than not, when foes turn up the heat they melt like hot butter. Too much stick-checking. Too much east-west play. Way too many turnovers.

A more balanced approach in terms of philosophy and personnel might help. While predominantly a puck-possession team, the ’08-09 Pens won the Cup because they could play any style. Yes, they were blessed with a supremely skilled core. But they also had guys like Matt Cooke, Hal Gill, Bill Guerin, Tyler Kennedy, Brooks Orpik, and Max Talbot. Nitty-gritty types who thrived in the trenches.

Rutherford is approaching the right mix up front. Newcomers Blake Comeau and Steve Downie joined holdover Zach Sill to add some aggression and fire. Ex-Predators Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling have shown plenty of hop.

The defense has a long way to go.

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  1. October 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Scuderi is the guy that’s been annoying me. He let’s guys camp right in front of Fleury all night. I understand on the PK he needs to leave them, but during even strength he leaves the them go also.

    Despres seems to have gotten some grit along the way, I’m liking that.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      My timing’s perfect, huh? I criticize the Pens’ defense and they play a terrific road game against Nashville. A couple of nights earlier I was complaining about Marcel Goc (would like a bigger and/or tougher player in his spot) and he promptly scored his first goal and was a plus-2.

      Needless to say, I was really frustrated with the way they played against Philly and Detroit. Especially the Red Wings. Everybody was just waving their sticks at the puck. No structure. No support.

      On the plus side, Despres as you noted has, indeed, amped up his physical play. While I think Scuderi’s been better than last season, I’d much rather have him as the No. 7 d-man (and unofficial playing/coach) than Scott Harrington. It makes no sense at all to sit a 21-year-old kid.

      It’ll be interesting to see who replaces Maatta (our prayers are with you, Olli). I’ll also be interested to see how the Pens fare against the Devils and the Kings—big teams that can keep the heat on our boys.


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