Craig Adams has the ability to stay calm under the most tense moments on the Penguins penalty killing unit.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Craig Adams knows what it must look like with four guys trying to shut down this shooting lane, then that passing lane, maybe knock the puck away from an opponent and, if all goes well, heave it down the ice.
"When I'm out there, I don't feel as frantic as [it looks]," the Penguins forward said of working on the penalty-kill. "I'm pretty relaxed, pretty focused.
"Even if it looks really close or they get a good chance, I'm not getting all excited about it -- whereas if I was on the power play, I'd probably be nervous."
Adams smiled at that last thought.
He leads the forwards with an average of 2 minutes, 51 seconds a game while short-handed, but never gets a sniff of the power play. At his age -- he turns 36 a day before the regular season ends -- Adams is not likely to grow into a power-play position.
His role on the team is set. Adams is a fourth-liner and penalty-killer who plays with tenacity, grit, a pinch of offense -- he has three goals, six points in 39 games going into a game Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C. -- and the smarts that go with having a Harvard degree.
It has been that way since the Penguins shrewdly picked him up off of waivers from Chicago a few months before the team won the 2009 Stanley Cup title.
Whether it remains that way into next season is a question that will need to be addressed. Adams is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, and the Penguins will be loaded with too many forwards on the 23-man roster when it kicks in again next season if they bring everyone back. There currently is no roster limit.
"Of course you think about it. I think about it all the time," Adams said. "Not to the point where it gets in the way of work, but whenever it's your career and you have a family to take care of, you're always conscious of what's coming next, where you're going to be working."
He would like it to be with the Penguins moving ahead.
"This organization is first class from top to bottom," he said. "That makes it a fun place to play and a pleasure to be a part of."
Working in Adams' favor is that he is comfortable playing any of the three forward positions. He has been primarily a right winger this season.
"Anything's good for me," Adams said. "As long as I'm out there."
Center, by definition, comes with some extra defensive responsibilities and faceoff duties, but there are some issues playing on the wing, too.
"Probably the biggest challenges on wing are the wall plays in our end," Adams said. "It seems like most teams we play against nowadays, they send their [defensemen] hard down the wall. One of the toughest plays in hockey, I think, is trying to get a puck coming off the wall with a big defenseman coming down on you, and you know your job is to get the puck out [of your end] or make a play with it."
It was a play along the wall nearly two weeks ago that led to Adams' latest black eye. He got bloodied when he took a puck to the face in a game against Montreal.
Adams doesn't wear a protective visor, and he has only given a cursory thought to adding one to his helmet.
"I've had some discussions with my wife about it," Adams said. "I can't say I've seriously considered it yet. Maybe I'll think about it more."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik began wearing a visor earlier this season. That's what sparked Adams' conversation with his wife. Then, nine days ago, team captain Sidney Crosby got hit in the mouth with a puck, fracturing his jaw and knocking out some teeth.
"Obviously, Sid's got a visor on and it didn't help," Adams said. "It is definitely dangerous with pucks flying around, but when you're out there in the game, you really don't think about it. You're focused.
"It's a different thing in practice. If you're standing in front of the net and pucks are coming high, all you want to do is get out of the way, but in a game you're really focused. Unfortunately, bad bounces happen, but for the most part you have a pretty good idea where the puck is."
That kind of puck-tracking focus is essential when you are short-handed, an area that has slipped some this season, which befuddles Adams.
The Penguins are killing penalties at an 80.3 percent clip, which ranked 20th in the NHL. They finished third a year ago at 87.8 percent and in 2010-11 led the league at 86.1 percent.
"Our penalty-kill hasn't been as good as we've hoped this year," Adams said. "It's been hard to figure out why."
The Penguins recently had a stretch of 10 games where they killed 28 of 30 penalties, or 93.3 percent, including a couple of important three-on-five kills. Then things crashed Wednesday in a 6-1 loss to the New York Rangers, who scored on 3 of 4 power plays.
In a rematch Friday, the Penguins killed the two power plays the Rangers had in a 2-1 shootout win.
"We slipped with our execution and maybe some aggressiveness along the way," Adams said. "I feel like we're getting back to that now
"We know that down the stretch and into the playoffs, those kills are going to become more and more important."
NOTES -- The Penguins recalled rookie winger Beau Bennett from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He had three assists in four games since he was sent to the AHL for roster room purposes. ... The Penguins on Sunday had a second day in a row off from practice. ... There were no updates on Crosby or winger James Neal, who seemed disoriented when he left a game Friday against the New York Rangers after being hit in the head by an elbow.