Controlling the neutral zone vital to Canes' success against Pittsburgh

Posted May 17, 2009
Updated May 18, 2009

After scoring 14 goals in their last three games and converting on five of their last 11 power play opportunities, the Pittsburgh Penguins have announced their offensive abilities with authority.

Led by arguably two of the NHL’s three best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins create many of their scoring opportunities with quick rushes through the neutral zone.

Carolina knows that any attempt to subdue Pittsburgh’s firepower has to begin with controlling the area between the blue lines.

“It will be of primary focus,” head coach Paul Maurice said before the start of the Eastern Conference finals. “How you move the puck and how much speed you allow them to generate through the neutral zone – they’re able to make short, tight passes through traffic. Coaches on some teams after they see their team try those passes, and they don’t work six of ten times, they’re screaming ‘just get it deep – we don’t need to try that.’ But when you’re watching [the Penguins] come through the neutral zone, seven of ten times they’re making those plays. They have more room, I think, off their attack to be creative, to use their skill level.”

Maurice has players, like Sergei Samsonov, Eric Staal and defenseman Joe Corvo, who like to operate in space and use their speed to create scoring chances

The Canes know, however, that it’s probably best not to try and beat the Pens at their own game.

“They’re a fast-paced team, and we think we are too,” Staal said. “I’m sure there will be some chances back and forth, but I don’t think we want to get into too much of a run-and-gun style against that high-end skill – they can make you pay.”

“We’re talking about some world-class players and some really good speed,” said Maurice. “They are going to get into that place where they’ll take a chance, and they’ll run with speed, and the rebound isn’t controlled and then you have an opportunity to go the other way – and you will do that. But we don’t feel it’s in our best interest necessarily to just trade those openly.”

After playing 14 postseason games against teams known for staunch defense, Carolina knows it’s more than likely in for a string of high-scoring affairs.

“There are going to be point in this series where they open us up and it’s going to be exciting for the fans,” Maurice said with a smirk. “The coaches will be a little bit more concerned, but this is going to be an incredibly exciting series.”


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  • bradcooperisinnocent May 18, 2009

    I feel very good about the Canes chances. Please don't be surprised if we even pull off the unthinkable - a SWEEP! Not out of the question. All starts with a win tonight. I feel so good about our chances in this series. All the pressure is off for us and it's all gravy from here on out.

  • Here kitty kitty May 18, 2009

    I'm so excited...I have to work tonight but my co-worker and I will be listening and cheering them on. We are having a Canes birthday party this afternoon! We can do this! LETS GO CANES!!!!!

  • HopingForABetterWorld May 18, 2009

    Completely different type of series. First two were physical battles. This one is finesse and skill. If we can adjust to that, we'll do ok. Hopefully this style will help get Cole, Whitney, Brindy, etc. on the scoreboard, and MULTIPLE TIMES!!!

  • nc20fan May 17, 2009

    I think the canes are gonna be more physical and attack more than the Pens can handle. Need to neutralize their speed and let Cam do the rest!!! Go Canes!!!!!

  • dta27615 May 17, 2009

    Yeah, never mind all the goals that were scored by players who were camped out in front of the crease. Our defense needs to harass them more and do a better job of clearing the puck.

  • citizencane May 17, 2009

    Go Canes!

  • viking416 May 17, 2009

    Ward is our ace card and he will have to keep up his stellar play. That said, we can't afford any sleeper games like the game 1's in the past two series. The Canes need to come out tomorrow and make a statement. Heck we are due for a game 1 victory!

  • StunGunn May 17, 2009

    Every round will be tough - that's what the playoffs are all about, but I'm not sure the Pens will be any more difficult than the Bruins. When I look at what the Canes have accomplished in the play-offs, I feel encouraged. I can see them in the Championship Game against the Red WIngs. Don't want to get ahead of myself, but I can see it happening. GO CANES!!!

  • scientistjo May 17, 2009

    Canes have a big advantage in Cam Ward. He's a better shot blocker and much, much better at handling the puck with his stick than Mr. Flower--especially in the trapezoid. As long as our D keeps open lanes for Ward to see the shooters, we should be sittin' pretty.

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