PHILADELPHIA -- It isn't a theory, really.
More like one man's opinion.
But it's an interesting take on the Penguins' defensive lapses and letdowns in a 6-3 loss to Philadelphia in Game 3 of this first-round playoff series at the Wachovia Center.
After an optional practice yesterday, defenseman Rob Scuderi -- not one given to off-the-wall analysis of anything -- suggested that some of the Penguins' defensive-zone troubles Sunday might have reflected how little they've had to play there lately.
That, essentially, they've controlled the puck -- and, thus, the play -- so effectively for so long that some guys might have lost a bit of the attention to detail that's so critical to playing well defensively.
"Our offense has done such a good job of keeping the puck, in a puck-possession way, in the offensive zone, that we haven't had to play much defense," Scuderi said. "We have played it well when we were there, but [Game 3] was not one of our better nights."
While Scuderi's assessment wasn't widely embraced by his teammates, it was universally accepted that the Penguins, who own a 2-1 lead in the series, can't afford a repeat performance in Game 4 at 7:08 p.m. today.
The Flyers skate too well, and have too much skill, for the Penguins to make coverage and judgment errors without having them register on the scoreboard.
"They have good players," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "If you lapse for a second, if you don't manage the puck well, if you give up a gap or miss an assignment, they have players who are going to capitalize. And not just one or two."
Fact is, Philadelphia got goals from five players -- Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne and Jared Ross -- before Gagne scored into an empty net Sunday.
The Flyers can score goals off the rush, as Carter did, or after setting up in the attacking zone, and moving bodies and the puck around to create a scoring opportunity.
At times in Game 3, the Penguins fixated on the puck, which allowed Philadelphia forwards to work free from defenders and move into scoring positions.
"It just seemed like there were some breakdowns coming back in our zone, and in our zone, too," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think we got mesmerized by the puck a few too many times rather than just picking up guys. When you do that against teams like that, they find ways to finish."
Scuderi echoed the idea -- even the wording -- that the Penguins paid too much attention to the puck, and not enough to the guys wearing Flyers sweaters.
"With the way they play, which is getting pucks to the net, you can get mesmerized by the puck and lose your man in front," Scuderi said. "At times, we're all guilty of it, but we definitely have to work on it, because we don't want to give up any more easy goals."
The Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy unit had its worst showing in a while in Game 3 -- bearing in mind that its work has set the performance bar considerably higher than it would be for most third lines -- and defenseman Sergei Gonchar had a fairly miserable game.
While Orpik stopped short of suggesting that a subpar defensive performance was almost inevitable at some point -- "I don't want to say we were due for a bad game, because once you get to the playoffs, your focus should be there every game" -- it probably wasn't realistic to expect the Penguins to get through their postseason run, however long it lasts, without having a few costly breakdowns.
"We maybe lost our focus a little bit, doing some of the little things that had made us successful," Cooke said.
Certainly, no one questioned the Penguins' willingness to work in Game 3. Their defensive energies might not always have been channeled properly, but no one gave his sweat glands the afternoon off.
"It definitely wasn't a lack of effort," Orpik said. "Guys were back into the zone quick enough and in position. I think it was just attention to detail."
A costly problem, to be sure, but hardly an irreparable one.
"It's a mind-set," Cooke said. "[The answer is] in preparation. It's a focus thing. If anything, it's the easiest thing to fix."
In theory, of course.
Dave Molinari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 21, 2009 4:00 AM