In Defense of Their Title, the Penguins Change Styles

In Game 4, the Penguins used a little bit of everything. Washington went 0 for 4 with the man advantage. Pittsburgh’s first goal came on a Patric Hornqvist breakaway set up by a beautiful stretch pass from Olli Maatta. The second came courtesy of a takeaway that ended with Jake Guentzel’s crossing pass smacking off Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s skate and into the net. The third, a laser by Justin Schultz on the power play, gave the Penguins the lead for good.

Throw in another spectacular performance by Fleury and a lockdown third period in which the Capitals managed to get only eight shots all the way to the net, and Pittsburgh is on the verge of eliminating Washington, the Presidents’ Trophy winner, for a second straight season and for the ninth time in 10 playoff meetings.

Sullivan has preached speed since the moment he arrived in December 2015. Pittsburgh recovered from an early-season malaise to sprint through the 2016 playoffs, where it averaged 34.8 shots a game while allowing just 28.

Having a skilled group that includes Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang certainly helped. So did an influx of young legs. The Penguins incessantly skated and chased, poke-checked and darted. It allowed them to lead the N.H.L. in goals this season while posting the second-best record in the league even with Letang lost for the season in February, part of a rash of injuries along the blue line that forced Sullivan to mix and match.

At 7-2 so far in the playoffs, the team playing a far more conservative brand of hockey. Pittsburgh is averaging 29.2 shots per game so far while giving up 37.3. Throw in the 22.6 shots the Penguins are blocking before they get to Fleury, and that is basically a shot a minute. Still, Pittsburgh has been firmly in control throughout the first three weeks of the playoffs.

Fleury’s remarkable play…

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