Penguins’ goal: Stay physical
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Left wing Matt Cooke spoke at length Friday night about the Penguins finally playing to their identity — albeit in a 3-2 loss to Anaheim.
In the early stages of the season, identifying exactly what the Penguins’ identity is has been a challenge. Cooke suggested that playing with speed and a physical nature is what the team is working for, and the two are not unrelated.
“You have to put yourself in position to create speed and to be able to get the forecheck going,” Cooke said. “It’s a big part of our game.”
And it’s a part of the game that isn’t strictly confined to grinders like Cooke.
Sidney Crosby has world-class skill but is hardly a stranger to physical play. What happened Friday night between the Penguins’ and Ducks’ captains was all of the evidence that is required.
Crosby and the much larger Ryan Getzlaf battled into the boards behind the Penguins’ net and continued to tussle all the way back to the team benches.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” Crosby said. “It was probably brought on by both teams.”
The Penguins’ most physical games are generally reserved for longtime rivals such as Philadelphia. However, a recent trend has shown that games against Western Conference foes have been especially rough, especially this season.
Starting with a victory in Nashville last month, the Penguins have been mixing it up with whoever is on their schedule.
“It’s a big part of our games,” left wing Mike Rupp said.
The Penguins aren’t scoring goals, nor keeping them out of their net, the way they would like in the early going. Dishing out punishment, however, hasn’t been a problem.
Entering Saturday’s game at Phoenix, Cooke was second in the NHL with 47 hits. Not far behind were teammates Chris Kunitz (34) and Brooks Orpik (33).
Hits can be subjective, and many hockey officials acknowledge that the statistic is not well researched. Regardless, there is no question that the Penguins are playing their best when playing physical.
“Our forecheck is at its best when we have generated a lot of speed,” Cooke said. “We started to show that (against Anaheim).”
Playing with speed and ferocity has been a staple of coach Dan Bylsma’s system since he took over two seasons ago. After the addition of a player like Arron Asham and the decision to sign Cooke to a three-year deal this summer, it’s safe to say general manager Ray Shero approves.
“We did some good things,” Cooke said. “We want to be physical.”