The Best Offense…

…is a good defense.

Tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames had a lot in it to like, and it all stemmed from disciplined, defensive play by all of the players. The result was quick and fluid transitions up ice with good chances on net.

In their 2-0 win, two Penguins defensemen answered the bell and found the back of the net. Kris Letang, continuing to shine on the primary power play, made it deja vu all over again, scoring backdoor under the Bylsma system that has taken the reins off the defense and involved them in the offense. Letang’s chance came after a pinball action of the puck as Malkin, Crosby, and Kunitz took turns buzzing the net in a tight cycle. The Flames’ Kiprusoff did his best, but in the end he could not account for the sneaky Letang.

Hal Gill, who as the months wore on under Michel Therrien seemed to be dying on the vine, getting slower and slower with each game, on the recieving end of several healthy scratches, has shown increasing energy under Bylsma. It became evident in the Kings game, but tonight, it was glaringly apparent that he has arisen from the ashes in what is decidedly his best game of the season. Gill showed speed, which is impressive for his 6 foot 7 frame, and tonight, he showed mental acuity being everywhere he needed to be and at least in one place no one expected him to be…except Evgeni Malkin. Gill hit Geno with a long pass on a break-out initiated by co-defenseman Rob Scuderi, and from eyes at the back of his helmet, Geno laid an across-the-body dump pass to a trailing Gill who sent it beautifully over Kiprusoff’s right shoulder.

It looked like an encore performance on the penalty front as early in the game, the Pens seemed to be letting the Flames get under their skin like the Flyers did on Sunday. They fought through it, regained their discipline, and managed to reduce their number of penalties to five this time out. The PK continues to impress and keep the team in the game. The Staal-Cooke primary PK duo continues to work fluidly and aggressively, frustrating Flames by keeping them at bay. The Talbot-Dupuis duo provides a high-octane PK. It’s like watching the release of the hounds. They go to ground and are tenacious as well as tireless. It will not be long before one or both of these tandems hits some short-handed goals.

After Malkin’s high-sticking double minor at 16:44 of the second period, the team stayed out of the box, and an exciting third period ensued, replete with run-and-gun five-on-five hockey and lots of hits. Brooks Orpik led the team in that department, laying out 10 of the team’s 44 smacks, energizing the crowd.

Marc-Andre Fleury was stellar between the pipes, getting a well-deserved shut-out and the Number 1 star of the game. Literally standing on his head in a few multiple shot and scrum instances, with the help of his defense, he was able to see the puck well, get the proper angles, and absorb more than he deflected.

At this point in the season, the Pens are playing strong hockey against Western Conference teams. They’ve beaten three of the last four Western Conference teams (Dallas, L.A. and Calgary) and eeked out one point from Columbus in an OT loss. If they continue to take care of business against their remaining Eastern Conference opponents, it has the makings of a good omen.

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