Defense Wins Championships especially in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins,(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins,(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

It’s been said many times, that Defense Wins Championships, and this is especially true in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won their Super Bowls, (1975,1976,1979,1980, 2006,2009) based on a Steel Curtain Defense.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have won their World Series Championships, (1909,1925,1960,1971,1979) based on Air-Tight Defense, Great Pitching and Hitting.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won their Stanley Cups, (1991,1992,2009,2016,2017) based on Rock-Sold Team Defense, a Good Goalie and Scoring.

The Penguins are on a six-game winning streak (as of Dec18.2021).  The Pens have won 11 out of their last 14 games.  The Penguins are playing great hockey right now.  So, what is the key to all this recent success, you might ask?

Defense.  Team Defense, to be more precise.

In the last 14 games, the Penguins have given up 23 goals or 1.64 goals per game.  You can win a lot of games in the NHL, by only giving up 1.64 goals in a game.  Let’s put the Penguins under the microscope, to find out how this team is playing Team Defense.

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Chalk Talk – Defense

Defense, is defined as, “the action of defending from or resisting attack.”

In the case of Pittsburgh Penguins, Defense is a Six Man effort.  All players on the ice at that one time, are relied upon to defend their zone or defend the net.  This can be a difficult task given the dynamic changes in a hockey game.  Success is realized when those six players, play as one unit, defend with max effort, and purpose.  The Penguins are doing this.

Puck Possession

As you know, Defensemen must make quick plays, under high duress and pressure from the opposition.  Puck possession is crucial for a team.  Anytime the Penguins Defensemen feel pressure, they simply Reverse the Flow to keep control of the puck, which allows the team to change lines or spot a foward in open ice.  The Penguins Defense are making these plays night in, night out.

Puck Possession Part Two.  The key to Puck Possession is Winning Faceoffs.  Getting out of your own zone is much easier when you start out with the puck and the Penguins have this part of the game figured out.  The Penguins Win More Faceoffs than their Opposition averaging 52.1% per game in Faceoffs Won.

Head on a Swivel

You have heard the saying, “keep your head on a swivel”, since playing youth hockey.  It is a fact that you must keep your eyes open at all times while on the ice, looking, scanning and analyzing players, especially in the Defensive Zone. The Penguins, as a team, are fully aware of who the opposition has on the ice and what they are capable of.  The Pens D are always checking over their shoulders and seem very aware of the backdoor passing play.  Shutting down this play will be key going into the new year, as goal mouth scrambles become the norm, closer to the playoffs and beyond.  So far so good.

Body Positioning

Defensemen are always aware of their body positioning, as they continuously try to get between their goalie and the opposition, in front of their net.  The Pens D have kept it relatively clean in front of their goalies this season.  The Penguins as a team, Block a lot of the Opposition Shots.  The Penguins averaged 13.42 Blocked Shots per game so far this season.  The Less number of pucks on net will equal less opportunity for the opposition to score.  It’s all about Body Positioning.

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Time and Space

Time and space are the new buzz words for; stay in your lanes, keep your stick out in front of you or to the outside (outside = to the boards), which keeps the opposition on the perimeter.  The Defensemen’s eyes are looking directly at the charging opposition players’ team logo (chest) in order to remain between the player and goalie.  The Penguins D are keeping the play in general to the perimeter.  The D are forcing the opposition to the outside beyond the Red Faceoff Dots (where there is a lower probability of goals being scored from), and not letting players burn them to the outside or crash the net.

Take the Body

As the opposition enters the Defensive Zone, the Penguins Defensemen are looking to stand up and Take the Body, at the blueline.  The Penguins are forceing the Opposition to make a play at their blueline.  By rubbing out an oncoming forward, stapling them to the boards or by simply crunching the opposition at this point of entry, disrupts the opposition’s offensive entry into the Zone.

The Penguins Rank 13th overall in the NHL for causing the opposition to become Offside.  As mentioned before, the Penguins causing the opposition to be offside is an Offensive Disruptor.  Offside completely breaks down the opposition’s offensive flow, stops play, and allows the Pens to re-set their defensive alignment or change players. (Up from 28th overall in Oct)

Forwards are Playing some Real Defense

Forwards know they should help out Defensively in their own Zone.  Should and actually do however, are two different things.  The Penguin forwards are fully engaged in helping out defensively in their own D-Zone.  The forwards are back-checking hard at all times, as well as picking up their wingers, on the way back to the D-Zone.  And during the infamous scrambles that can occur from time to time, the Forwards are coming back to the net area, in numbers, to help out down low.  This amazing Team D effort is showing up in goalie Jarry’s Goals Against Average. 1.92 GAA up to Dec18.21.

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Win the 50 / 50 Battles

An integral part of the game, is winning the 50/50 battles that occur along the boards.  Both the Forwards and Defensemen must win these 50/50 battles in order to win.  The Penguin Players are winning these battles, game in, game out.  The Pens are putting the puck in the right spots in order to get out of the D-Zone as fast and as quick as possible, (along the boards and with puck support).

We have talked about this part of the game before, however let me mention it again, the Penguins continuously Hit their Opposition.  Hitting opponents causes mental errors over time and the Pens lay the body on average 27.35 per game.

The other side bar to this is Turnovers.  The Penguins rarely Turnover the puck.  The Penguins average 8.35 Turnovers per game.  The Penguins rank 22nd overall in the NHL for Defensive Zone Giveaways. (Up from 29th overall in Oct).  Not a great trend, however still in the bottom of the league for turnovers per game.

You know that winning always comes down to turnovers, in all sports.  Win this Stat and you exponentially increase your chance of winning the game.

The Magic Triangle

The Penguins are applying the “Magic Triangle” to perfection.  The Magic Triangle is when the puck carrier has two passing lane options, (in essence these three players form a triangle).  The Penguins are applying this technique all over the ice and in all zones.  The extreme puck support that I have seen by the Penguins, is off the charts, especially over the last 14 games.

I know it is still early, but I’m so excited for the Penguins near future, (can you say run for the Cup baby.)

Field Position

Smart team Defense gets the puck out of their D-Zone as fast as they can, gains the Neutral Zone and then gains the Offensive Zone.  I know this “Field Zone Progression “sounds basic, however, when you have players crashing into you at high speed, this can become quite difficult.

The fact is, the Penguins have done a super job of getting out of their D-Zone this season.  Defensemen are making fast crisp passes to Forwards in good receiving positions.  Forwards not able to take the puck up ice, are using the little chip n chase plays to gain field position.

Compete Level

The Penguins seem to be able to bring a higher level of compete to the rink, than their opposition of late.  You can witness this as they employ a fast transition game from Defense to Offense.  When the puck is turned over, the D look immediately for a supporting Forward or better yet, a stretch pass to a flying winger.

Puck support happens at all times and from all three levels, Goalie, Defense and the Forwards.  The Penguins are beating their opposition to the puck at all times and in all zones.  To be first on a puck, “you simply gotta want it more than the opposition”.  The Penguins want it (puck), are getting the results (wins) and it is awesome to watch.

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Pittsburgh Penguins as of Dec18.2021

16-8-5=37 Points – 4th in the Metropolitan Division (Up from 7th Place in Oct)

37 Points – 7th in the Eastern conference (Up from 13th Place in Oct)

37 Points – 12th in the NHL overall (Up from 22nd overall in Oct)

Pittsburgh Penguins are holding the Wild Card #1 Playoff Spot, at this time.

Yinzer Rules:

1.       We Are Family – support and stay the course.

2.      It’s All About Defense – commit to it and we will excel.

My View from the Cheap Seats

The Penguins have been playing a super brand of hockey, these last 14 games. It’s fun to watch a team play sound fundamental hockey, in all areas of the game.  One thing I know for sure, if the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to play this type of Team Defense for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, then the Penguins will be hoisting the Stanley Cup this year.

Quote of the Day:

“There are only two options regarding commitment; you’re either in or you’re out”
Pat Riley – NBA Coach, GM, President