UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- When the Pittsburgh Penguins were beaten 4-1 by the New York Islanders on national television last week, it served as a bit of a wakeup call for a team many have expected big things from.
After winning their opening two games, the Penguins dropped two of three before the Islanders put on a clinic at CONSOL Energy Center with their speed and power play success, leaving fans to boo the home team as they left the ice. Head coach Dan Bylsma wasn't pleased with the lack of emotion and execution of his players. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals and was pulled after the second period.
“They had a good game in our building," said Fleury. "I wasn’t too happy with that one.”
Seven days later, on Tuesday night, they met again, this time at Nassau Coliseum, with the Penguins coming in as a different team. They had reeled off three straight victories over the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals, and added a fourth with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders. A strong penalty kill that didn't allow a goal on seven Islander attempts and 32 saves from Fleury was enough to continue the momentum with the Capitals visiting Thursday and a home and home with the Devils coming on the weekend.
There's a sign that hangs in the Penguins locker room both at home and on the road. It reads "DEASONE", meaning "defense as one". The phrase is combined to signify a team-concept to defense.
Tuesday night's performance was night and day from a week ago, and the theme that came across in the Penguins' locker room before and after the win Tuesday was the emphasis on improved defensive play, or DEASONE. The Penguins have allowed just six goals in these four wins thanks to following that concept and strong performances by their goaltending tandem of Fleury and Tomas Vokoun.
“We were not really playing a good defensive game," said Fleury. "We were trying stuff on our own and it cost us. Right now guys know their role and what we’re looking for as a team.”
Keeping the game out of the reach for a while was the Penguins' penalty kill, which has vanquished 16 of 17 power play opportunities since last week's Islander game when the visitors scored on their only two chances late in the second period to put the game out of reach.
"The biggest thing for us is our playing defense both with the puck and without the puck," said Bylsma. "We've done a much better job of playing with the puck and managing the puck, allowing us to play where we want to play; and we've been very good away from the puck. We've done a much better job eliminating opportunities by the way we've played."
In a shortened season, every team will go through bumps, though this year they will be magnified because there's only so much time to try and recover lost points in the standings. After the Penguins' little bump Bylsma's name was floated as a coach who could potentially find himself on the hot seat. But as we've seen in Penguins GM Ray Shero's tenure, patience overcomes rashness.
(Remember, it took until mid-February in 2009 to fire Michel Therrien, the day after an embarrassing loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada . At the time the Penguins sat 10th in the East.)
Over the next month and a half, the Penguins start getting away from a heavy Atlantic Division schedule early on with just nine of their next 26 games against divisional foes. Now they'll be able to test themselves against what the rest of the East has got and see how far the DEASONE concept can take them.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
Posted under NHL