Petr Sykora discovers Pittsburgh's potent offence isn't the only trick his new team has up its sleeve
October 25, 2007
PITTSBURGH–Petr Sykora knew one thing during his summer of free agency: After a year in Edmonton with a team that won just once in its last 20 games, he knew he wanted to play for a winner again.
He found what he was looking for in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I felt this team is on the way up," said Sykora, a former Stanley Cup champion who signed for two years at $2.5 million (U.S) a year. "They made the playoffs last year. All the young guys are a year older, more experienced. They got to taste the playoffs and they're going to be driven to get back."
And he's found out something else about the young guns on Pittsburgh's supposed high-octane offence. These guys can play defence, too.
"We have a lot of scoring power, but we have a pretty good defensive team," said the centre, who ought to know, having played seven years on the defensive-oriented New Jersey Devils. "We are defensive minded. We don't give up a lot of chances. The main thing we work on in practice is defence; be consistent, be on the strong side of the puck, don't give up odd-man rushes."
That's good news for the Penguins, who are winning even though they're not really scoring like they did last year. Jordan Staal looks as if he's going through a sophomore jinx, with one goal and one assist. Sidney Crosby has only two goals, although he has eight helpers.
Coach Michel Therrien said he's trying to find the balance between teaching his young stars to be aware defensively without stifling their ability to skate hard, create chances and score goals.
"We try to focus a lot on our defensive game," said Therrien. "But I don't want to have (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby on their heels, I want them to be on their toes. That's where they're successful. I don't want Sidney Crosby to hold back.
He's got to provoke things. But he's got to be cautious and aware of his defensive game. That's the way you win the Stanley Cup."
Crosby has been fielding questions nearly daily about his inability to score lately.
"I've just got to work through it," said Crosby. "There's no point in hanging your head about it or thinking about it. There's enough things to worry about besides that.
"I got to make sure I'm doing the same things and it will come."
It just might, given the Maple Leafs are coming to town. The Leafs bring with them the league's second worst goals-against average, mental errors in their own end and a penchant for taking hooking and holding penalties against young speedy players.
Staal had his breakout-game – a hat trick – against Toronto last February. Crosby picked up his only goals this year in Pittsburgh's 6-4 over the Leafs. And Malkin has more points (14) against Toronto than any other team, and he's only played the Leafs five times.
"I don't really worry about the games pasT," said Crosby. "Obviously, it builds confidence, but you can't afford to take any team lightly and we're not going to do that here.
"They're playing hard. They have a big road trip coming up here. We know they're going to be ready."
Part of the offensive slack has been picked up by Sykora, who has four goals and three assists, is third in team scoring, and is glad to have gotten off to a quick start in his new surroundings.
"It's always kind of hard to come to a new team, find your way with coaches, where are you going to fit," said Sykora. "It doesn't happen overnight. I'm sort of in that process. I think I'm off to a pretty good start. Hopefully, the puck is going to continue to go in for me."