Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Consistency the Key Defense Enjoying Continuity So Far in First Playoff Series

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Consistency the Key Defense Enjoying Continuity So Far in First Playoff Series

Article excerpt

The Penguins are poised to do something fairly momentous - at least for them - in Game 3 Sunday night against Columbus.

No, it's not the opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, though that is on the table.

The Penguins likely will start the same set of defense pairings for the third consecutive game, affording them a sense of consistency along the blue line they hadn't had very much over their injury-plagued stretch run of the regular season. That consistency has helped with what have been two solid defensive efforts through two games against Columbus.

In the final 20 games, the Penguins were able to keep the same defense pairings three nights in a row just twice. The downside, obviously, is that the shuffling came because players were in and out of the lineup because of injury.

The unintended benefit, though, many players said over those weeks, was it gave them a chance to play with plenty of different partners.

"Out of necessity, it gave us an opportunity to explore combinations," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We did get an opportunity as a coaching staff to try to become who we thought were complementary and which guys worked well together."

Two of the current pairings - Trevor Daley/Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz/Ian Cole - have histories that date to last season. But the Brian Dumoulin/Ron Hainsey combination is a relatively new one. The two played together for three games immediately after Hainsey was acquired in a February trade, but only were reunited in the final six games of the regular season.

Those two have been listed as the top pair on the Penguins lineup card for Games 1 and 2 against the Blue Jackets, but that hasn't mattered much in reality. All six defenseman have averaged between 19:05 and 20:58 of ice time through two games, a remarkably balanced effort.

Last year, playoff ice time for defensemen ranged from Letang's 28:53 to Schultz's 13:01.

"It works for us," Ian Cole said. "We're very confident in our six defensemen that are playing, very confident in all of our defensemen, quite frankly.

"We think that we can play against anyone, shut down anyone and transition the puck against anyone. …

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