Tiring Pens' Letang vital for Flyers' chances

Tiring Pens' Letang vital for Flyers' chances
April 12, 2012, 7:44 pm
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PITTSBURGH -- It sounds like such a simple thing to do: get pucks deep.

Get them behind the Penguins defense. Make their defense go back and retrieve those pucks. Then hit them.

And the key is to do that every time Kris Letang is on the ice.

Thats something the Flyers couldnt do initially against the Penguins in Game 1. Yet it was something they eventually succeeded in doing during the final three periods including overtime during a 4-3 victory.

Getting pucks in and getting on the forecheck, that is what we are good at, Wayne Simmonds said. I think in the last 40 minutes we did a good job at that. In the first 20, we were awful.

We got to get the puck down there. Were a good offensive team coming from the top of the circles to the goal line. From there, you get more chances coming off the rush. That has to be staple of our game.

And when hes Letang out, definitely, he wants 30 minutes of ice time. Any time you can get a lick on a guy like that, you have to take it.

Much like Scott Niedermayer used to do in New Jersey, Letang is one of those rare defensemen capable of controlling the game from the back end.

Letang had 19 points in Pittsburghs final 20 games. He ranked second among all defensemen with an 0.82 points per game average. He led the Pens in plusminus (plus-21.) He played 28:18 against the Flyers in Game 1.

Though he had two assists on a couple of early goals, Letang was on the ice for the final three goals the Flyers scored in their comeback win.

He was unable to control the game because the Flyers made him chase pucks behind the net, not allowing him to start those deadly rushes up ice cleanly and, in some cases, keeping the Pens locked into their own end.

He is so very dangerous, said Jakub Voracek, whose overtime game-winner saw a puck bounce off Letangs stick directly onto his stick.

If you put pucks behind, we will try to go hit him. Its going to make him tired eventually. I am not saying it will make him tired right now or in Game 2 or Game 4. But Game 5 and 6, he is going to feel it.

Especially if he is playing 30 minutes a night. You got to skate up and down for pucks. It becomes hard to do. We have to keep doing that to him.

It didnt happen right away. Pens coach Dan Bylsma said by the second and third periods, however, the Flyers were consistently getting pucks past their defense, making it harder on Letang and others coming out of the defensive zone.

All that wasted energy might have contributed to Letang not having his usual, dominating game.

I thought he was very good in the first period, Bylsma said of Letang. I thought it coincided with a lot of what we did in moving the puck up the ice into the offensive zone. As the game went on, we got less of that, not just from our defense, Kris and others.

They Flyers did a good job, they put us back. They put pucks behind our defense an awful lot and they continued to do that for two periods. They had a real focus at making our defense go back and they gave us problems there and got on the forecheck.

I thought they did that very well and it did have an affect as the game wore on and you even saw that in the overtime.

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they have to neutralize Letang. Historically speaking, go back and see what the Flyers did in 1974 against Bostons Bobby Orr in the Stanley Cup Final.

They made Orr go back to chase pucks and tried to hit him whenever they could. Its an old strategy, but when you have the size the Flyers have -- 6-foot-1, 203 pound average -- and the forecheck pressure they generate, its an important part of their game plan.

As the game moved on, I thought we did a better job in a lot of different areas, certainly putting pucks in areas where we could get them back was one of them, said an understated coach Peter Laviolette.

He added that until the Flyers began skating in the second period, they werent able to do anything with the puck, much less get it deep on the Penguins defense.

Scott Hartnell agreed.

That first period, we werent skating, not getting pucks deep, Hartnell said. Its not like we were trying to be too fancy. We had no legs. We werent playing physical. That second and third period was winning hockey for us.

We got pucks deep, we were hitting, we were physical, we were staying out of stuff after the whistles and we converted on a huge power play the only one we got.

By the end, the Penguins defense and Letang were tired.

It was in our game plan from the first minute to go after it, but it didnt work out very well at the start, Voracek said.

But we stayed with the plan. They started to get tired on the back end and we took advantage of it.

The Flyers will need to continue to do just that in Game 2 on Friday.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net