It's not a combination you usually see on the score sheet.
P. Martin (1) -- B. Orpik (1), S. Crosby (2).
Center Sidney Crosby gets plenty of assists, but the Penguins shutdown defensive pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are relied on to prevent goals, not generate them.
But, in the second period of a 5-2 victory a week ago against the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center, Orpik drove a slap shot from the left half wall at the net. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward made the save and deflected the puck behind the cage, where it took a bounce off the end boards and deflected to the right faceoff circle where Martin was able to backhand it into the goal.
While the goal hardly was by design, it was a scoring play that might not have happened in past NHL seasons.
Hoping to create more offense league-wide, the NHL this season reshaped the nets. While the goal mouth remains 4-feet by 6-feet, the depth of the nets are 4 inches shallower than before. Besides allowing extra space between the cage and the boards, the newer nets also have opened up more angles for pucks to hit off the end boards.
"The angle it came out ... it came out a little wider," Martin said. "Maybe that wouldn't have been affected, but it would have been close."
"There's better angles and there's less iron there that's going to hit when the puck comes out," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There are going to be pucks that get out more because of less net there."
A more immediate concern for defenseman will be defending opponents behind their nets, especially with wraparound attempts. The new cages don't "bubble" out at the bottom as much and offer a more direct route for attacking players to attempt wraparound shots.
"If you're chasing a guy and he's using the net as a pick, or if you're the net-front [defenseman]," Orpik said, "you've just got to get your stick to the post [the attacking forward] is trying to wraparound quicker."
There also is more room for offensive players behind the nets, Martin said.
"They don't have to put it outside the net to throw it right out front," he said. "I think that's the biggest difference."
In addition to wraparound attempts, skilled offensive players, such as Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, could take advantage of the extra space to set up teammates for scoring chances. In that same game, Crosby passed to Kunitz in the right circle, and he put a shot on net that initially was stopped by Ward. Pascal Dupuis battled for the rebound and scored on a play that initially was ruled a goal by on-ice officials but was overturned after video review.
"I think there's been a difference. I think there's more room to make plays," Crosby said. "The angles are a bit better for making plays from there. I don't know numbers-wise how much more it's created because of that."
The Penguins fourth line appears to have benefited offensively from the extra space. Forwards Joe Vitale, Craig Adams and Tanner Glass have combined for eight points this season with several of their offensive chances being generated behind the goal.
"As a line, our emphasis is offensive zone time and wearing the other team's defense down," Vitale said. "When you do those things and you have more space, that's going to help. If you look at the success we've had, especially around the net, I think you can't help but notice there is a little bit more room, and it does help you when you're producing points."
Unlike the rule change instituting hybrid icing which has been met with significant disapproval from players, the new nets seem to be popular.
"I thought it was a good move," center Brandon Sutter said. "I think it has made a real difference and I can't see why they would go back to the way it was before. It was a pretty smart move."
"I like it. I think it's good for the game," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "If they're trying to get more offense, that's good. It's a little scary when a skilled player has the puck back there, but it's good for the game."
Seth Rorabaugh: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @emptynetters. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM