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.”