Lemieux, of all people, came up with a defensive plan. "He came to me the morning of the fifth game and said, 'Why don't we surprise them and play the game close to the vest. Tight, tight, tight,' " Bowman recalls. "I'd never pushed a lot of defensive hockey on this team, but since it was Mario who suggested it...."
They cooked up a forechecking system called the 1-4 delay, in which the Penguins didn't chase the puck in the offensive zone but stacked the neutral zone with players and thought of the blue line as a battleground. It was remarkably similar to one of the forechecking systems Blake had drawn up for Bowman 30 years earlier, when he was coaching the Junior Canadiens. At the Penguins' morning meeting, it was introduced to the rest of the team. Kehoe started to explain it, when Bowman interrupted.
"Fellas, this idea came from Mario," he said. Then he asked Lemieux to explain the 1-4 delay. "Go ahead, Mario."
Lemieux, embarrassed, said no, thank you, that Kehoe was doing just fine. "The team laughed," Bowman remembers. "They got a big kick out of that." He also remembered what Irvin had said so many years before: If you could get your team to laugh before a big game, it gave you an edge. The Penguins, of course, swept the next three games to eliminate the Caps. They then defeated the Rangers, who had been the NHL's top team in the regular season; then the Boston Bruins; and then the Blackhawks, reeling off 11 straight playoff wins, a record, en route to their second—and Bowman's sixth—Stanley Cup. Says Bowman, "As great as our teams were in Montreal, we never won 11 straight. We got on a roll and never looked back."
This thread from October 2003 is a very good indicator of the type of player Lemieux was perceived as in the early 2000s. The thread, titled "Mario Lemieux is one of the laziest players in the NHL," is full of players sharing their opinions on Lemieux's defensive game; the conclusion was that he wasn't "that bad" but wasn't very good either.
He was not necessarily good at the defensive side of the game, but was not terrible at it. Sometimes he would chase down players and try to contain them; more often than not, however, he would look to create offense first. Here are some of the posts in that thread:
It's funny how no one's allowed to critisize Lemieux just because he's Lemieux. To say he floats is an understatement. He pretty much leaves him linemates to do all the hardwork while he just worries about racking up the points
It's also funny how everyone flames Jagr when he floats, even though he isn't half as lazy as Lemieux. I guess Jagr must have learned from the best then....?
It's funny how no one thinks Lemieux actually plays defense because he's one of the best offensive players of all time.
People who don't watch him often have no right to critisize the guy's work ethic considering what he does just to play every game. He's slow, big FREAKING deal, he still creates more offense than anyone in the game and has a very, VERY underrated defensive game. As I said earlier tonight he was our second best defensive forward tonight.
Lemieux always backchecks. When a player is on a breakaway against the pens, a lot more than once last year it was Lemieux applying pressure and being the first one back. TP, why don't you actually watch a penguin game and make sure you know what you are talking about before you critisize players. Remember, penguins fans see Lemieux the most and they know how he plays, so why embarrass yourself?
Well, I'll tell you, I was freaking out EVERYTIME Lemieux was left open. I was even freaking out when Lidstrom was on Lemieux. He wasn't leading any rushes out there but it is not like he sucked. He wasn't that bad.
Mario Lemieux is not necessarily the worst backchecker in the world (that honour goes to Mr. Todd Bertuzzi), however he may be one of the worst players in the league when it comes to giving up the puck that creates odd man rushes against his team.
To say, or even imply, that he isn't anything better than dismal defensivly is simply being overly homeristic on the matter.
When Mario gets open space and has the puck, nobody disputes he is one of the best at setting up a play. However, he does have big-time defensive shortcomings, and he cannot score with enough regularity to make him an asset every time he steps on the ice - unlike, say, a Mike Modano. Lemieux can be very effective offensivly and help his team. Other times, he can make key mistakes at critical moments. This isn't to say he shouldn't be in the league anymore - he's still amongst the best players around offensivly.
Originally Posted by Evilo
You're wrong on all accounts.
Not only is he better than ANYONE offensively, but when he feels like it, he's better defensively than 99% of the NHL forwards.
Tonight he had an average game offensively. So what?
Sorry, make that another poor hockey post form you...
Mario is better defensively than 99% of NHL forwards?
Give me a break.
At best, he is mediocre. When he wants to be, he is fairly effective. Key part is, when he wants to be. The difference is that 'good' defensive forwards 'want to be' every game, every shift. Mario sure doesn't.
While I don't believe for a second Lemieux is one of the laziest players in the league, I have to say there's a bit of homerism going on here. According to Mario he is basically in as good a physical shape as he has been in years, but based on the games I've seen he is not hustling to the degree I expected. Not based on the comments he's been making all summer.
I definitely saw him "floating" around a few times last night; I don't think that's a bogus criticism at all. That said, I would like to see him lead by example a little more out there in terms of hustle. He did make some good plays defensively but he can do more. There's no way I expect 2 ppg any more with the people around him, but he can do other things and should do them to set an example.
Originally Posted by Trottier
Originally Posted by mariano
Anyone who thinks that Mario hasn't been a floater during the regular season is delusional. His pattern has always been to float during the season and not play defence until the games matter, in the playoffs.
And what does that make one who has the audacity to criticize the playing style of one of the top five players of all-time, and arguably the second most prolific offensive player of all-time?
The answer is too obvious.
Same type of person who would criticize Wayne Gretzky for not being physical enough, Bobby Orr for being injury-prone, Mark Messier for being "dirty," Patrick Roy for having the good fortune of playing with good teams, and Mona Lisa for having a crooked smile.
Any wonder why many athletes have disdain for fans?
The thread indicates a very split opinion about Mario's game, but most favoring the opinion that he was not displaying a very high level of defensive play at the time of these posts; those defending his defensive game seemed to want to respect him as a player and excuse his less-than-stellar defensive work by citing his superior offense.
In another thread entitled "Who do you think is the most one-dimensional player in the NHL," here is one post about Lemieux:
I will take a one dimentional Lemieux over all but 2 players ever and I dont buy that one dimentional crap either. I am glad the Pens make it to STL this year I am going to sit down low for that one in case Mario has one of those games and puts on a show.
As much as I kike the scraps the player for the Blues in my avatar was pretty one dimentional.
Mario Lemieux was not particularly spectacular at playing defensively, but his offensive capabilities more than made up for it.
Last edited by JetsAlternate: 03-25-2013 at 06:13 AM.
I'll say Gretzky. We marvel at the takeaways Datsyuk has nowadays but that stat was never in existance when Gretzky played and I can only imagine what his numbers would be with that.
So in that way he was stellar defensively because even on the defensive side of things he was always a threat. He also was great positionally. No, Gretzky didn't throw a thunderous check but he was the same on defense that he was on offense - sneaky.
With Lemieux I think much later in his career he developed a better two-way game. If I had to narrow it down I suppose after his comeback in 2000 once he realized that while still elite offensively he didn't have the knack to beat players one-on-one like he used to. I never thought Lemieux was a defensive liability in the 2002 Olympics or the 2004 World Cup either.
But early in his career, yeah, a little bit more effort on the defensive side of things and I think the Penguins make the playoffs earlier than 1989.