UnitedHealthcare Health insurance that includes all Western PA hospitals
Thursday September 16 2021
Leave this field empty.

New Look Defense As Advertised

PSR Logo
The Penguins were one sudden death goal away from losing their fourth straight game at the Consol Energy Center. After giving up a two-goal lead to the Atlantic Division leading Islanders, the Pens skated into the extra period wondering when they would manage to win a game at their new home.

Although Milan Jurcina of the Islanders took a hooking minor just 52 seconds into overtime, no one observing the Penguins’ recent power play performances would have considered it a serious threat for New York. Pittsburgh was 0-7 on the man advantage during the game, and just 3-for-27 on the season. The Penguins, however, scored a power play goal when it mattered most when Alex Goligoski fired a wrist shot past Rick Dipietro just 1:51 into overtime.

Goligoski’s game winner represents what the Penguins’ blueline has meant to the team so far this year; with Pittsburgh dealing with a disappointing start by franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and even a few underwhelming performances by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first few games of the season, their defense has been solid from the beginning. It was another young defenseman, Kris Letang, whose overtime winner against the Predators gave Marc-Andre Fleury his much-needed first win of the season six days after Goligoski’s OT marker.

After a sluggish start to the season that gave the Penguins a 1-3 record, the team rattled off four straight wins – thanks in no small part to the play of their defensemen.

After losing Sergei Gonchar--the rock of the Pens’ defense, and arguably the entire team--to free agency, the Penguins’ off-season priority was upgrading their defense. Keeping the 36-year-old Gonchar, who missed significant time in the previous two seasons because of injuries, was not practical; so Ray Shero signed two veteran defensemen, both in their prime, for a combined $45 million over five years. Paul Martin, the smooth-skating former Devil, and Zbynek Michalek, an underrated defensive defensemen and excellent shot blocker from Phoenix, would join Goligoski, Letang and Brooks Orpik to make the Penguins’ core of top five defensemen one of the best in the league – on paper.  

The excitement and hype surrounding the Pens’ new blueline was palpable around Pittsburgh – even before the first puck dropped on the 2010-2011 season, and before Goligoski and Letang have proven they're mature enough--so far-- to make up for Gonchar’s absence.

However, even Goligoski noted that the Pens lost more than just a great player on the ice when Gonchar went to Ottawa.

“Obviously he is a good leader,” he said. “He’s known as one of the best power play quarterbacks in the league. He’s a really poised guy and calming in our locker room. You lose a lot in a guy like that, but the guys we brought in and the guys that were already here (also have a lot to offer); we have a lot of leaders in the locker room.”

Goligoski has been right thus far, and the Pens’ new defense, particularly he and Letang, have not disappointed. Goligoski began the year much like he did in 2009, when he had six goals and 13 points in 15 games. His strong play, however, did not continue throughout the season, perhaps because of injuries.

“Last year I got off to a great start and obviously I slowed down after that,” he said. “(I’m) definitely trying to be consistent, and every night having the same intensity and focus.”

This year, Goligoski started out with a seven game point streak, and was one of the Penguins’ most consistent players at both ends of the ice.

Letang, who scored only three times last year during the regular season, seems to be matching the way he played during the postseason in 2010. He ratcheted up five goals and seven points in 13 playoff contests. In addition, after 96 missed shots last year, Letang’s accuracy is improving.

Going into their ninth game of the season against St. Louis, Letang, Goligoski and Martin, were ranked second, third and fourth in points among defensemen in the league. At that point, Goligoski’s three goals gave him the shared lead in that category for NHL defensemen.

While the Penguins’ defense has contributed offensively, Pittsburgh’s blueline has proven stout defensively, even after losing shutdown veterans Orpik and Michalek to early season injuries.

Even Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland found early niches and made the most of their opportunities – the latter showing that he can match the toughness of the league’s most notorious fighters.

One of the most exciting prospects about the Penguins’ defense is that there is room for improvement. The power play is still converting less than 20 percent of the time. With their personnel, the Pens should have one of the best power plays in the league. Through nine games they were ranked 14th. As Goligoski gets more comfortable with his roving position on the Penguins’ new, more mobile power play, that statistic could improve. Paul Martin should also shoot the puck more often.

Despite these glitches, the Pens will have the opportunity to get even better as the season progresses. Now that Marc-Andre Fleury has the first win under his belt, Crosby and Malkin are dominating offensively and key players--including center Jordan Staal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek--are recovering from injuries, the Pens’ defense maintaining their current level of play is a very scary prospect for the rest of the NHL.

Share
PSR VIDEO
See video
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 1 Penguins TV Channel
See video
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 2Penguins TV Channel
See video
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 3Penguins TV Channel
Josh Bell had not hit a walk-off home run since he was a member of the Altoona Curve in 2015. He changed that Friday with a soaring shot for the left field loonies.
Custom 1North Shore Notes
Francisco Cervelli is as passionate about the current state of Venezuela as anybody you'll find. Last month, the Pirates' catcher spoke passionately about the movement, his country's state of affairs and the future of Venezuela.
Custom 2North Shore NotesPress Room
Gustav Nyquist and Jimmy Howard led the way for the Red Wings, who landed Pittsburgh its fourth straight regulation loss.
Blue LineCustom 3Press Room
Monday night was more than a game. For Jameson Taillon, it was another heave in an ongoing push to liberation from a disease that can break down the toughest of men.
Custom 4North Shore NotesPress Room