Penguins' penalty-killers take a tougher approach

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It's an eight-second count, but no one uses a stopwatch or ticks off the time by slamming his stick on the ice.

The Penguins who kill penalties under interim coach Dan Bylsma's guidance simply have developed a feel for how long they can pressure an opponent's power play in the Penguins' defensive zone with the intent of clearing the puck before having to retreat into the familiar defensive box.

"Our mentality is, as soon as they get in the zone, the first eight seconds, you go at them as hard as you can and try to create some havoc, keep the puck on the walls," Jordan Staal, one of the Penguins' top penalty-killing forwards, said yesterday after practice at Mellon Arena.

"Reading off each other, we know where each other [is] and we can make little passes or plays to get it out -- kind of go at them with all forces, pressuring from all sides. If it doesn't work, sink back into your box and wait for your moment to pressure again."


Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins vs. Los Angeles Kings, 7:38 p.m., Mellon Arena.
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM.
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Erik Ersberg for Kings.
  • Penguins: Are 11-2-1 in past 14 home games. ... Are 8-6-2 vs. Western Conference. ... C Sidney Crosby has 11-game point streak (6 goals, 14 assists).
  • Kings: Before playing Boston last night, 6 of previous 7 games were decided by a goal. ... F Alexander Frolov had 7-game point streak (2 goals, 7 assists). ... D Drew Doughty led team and all rookies with 24:09 average ice time.
  • Hidden stat: The most recent two hat tricks in series came one month apart: Rob Brown for Penguins Feb. 10, 1990, and Luc Robitaille for Kings March 10, 1990.

The approach to short-handed work is similar to the overall philosophy Bylsma has preached since he took over the team Feb. 15. It's about being aggressive in a smart way, and it has been paying off.

During the first three games of a franchise-record, eight-game homestand that continues tonight against Los Angeles, the Penguins have killed 18 of 19 power plays and given up 22 shots -- just a little more than one shot per time short-handed. That's one of the reasons they are 2-0-1 in those games.

"I think we're attacking a lot more," said Rob Scuderi, perhaps the Penguins' best penalty-killing defenseman. "The coaches have given us the green light in certain situations to attack the puck, and that's what we want to do. It's a lot better to take the offensive rather than to sit back.

"I would rather have them beat us being aggressive than to have them beat us laying back. I think that's the approach we're taking now, and so far, so good."

At the start of the homestand, the Penguins were 17th in the NHL in killing penalties, with a success rate of 80.6 percent, and 13th in home games, at 82.8 percent.

Over the past three games, they climbed to 14th overall, 81.5 percent, and ninth at home, 84.4 percent, going into last night's league action.

"We just kind of know where we need to press as soon as they try to settle in," said winger Pascal Dupuis, another regular penalty-killer. "Try to push them toward the boards, pay the price to block shots. When you're winning, it's easier to pay the price.

"We've got that eight-second rule, too, when that puck needs to be out of the zone. And we've got a good goalie. That helps, too."

No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has noticed a reduction in his workload when his team is short-handed.

"The power play is when teams usually get their best chances, shots and rebounds and there are more guys at the net," he said. "We're just forcing plays, forcing them to make mistakes instead of sitting back and waiting for what comes to us. I've seen less shots, less scoring chances."

The Penguins are rotating through their penalty-killers quickly, with short, energetic shifts.

The first task is to have one forward pressuring up ice.

"I think before we were -- not sitting back too much, but waiting for them to kind of come to us," Scuderi said. "Now we're sending our first forward and saying, 'If you can disrupt their play and their breakout, get up there and do it.' If it makes them turn back and take up another 15 seconds, that's a good thing."

That's exactly what the Penguins did to Atlanta in a 6-2 win Tuesday.

"When you do that two or three times, you start to frustrate them, and we've done a good job of that," Bylsma said.

The Thrashers, who brought a six-game winning streak into the game, got so discombobulated by chasing the puck back into their end that they rarely got their power play set up and wound up going 0 for 7 with just four shots.

Los Angeles' power play was ranked 11th overall at 20 percent and 16th on the road at 18.1 percent going into its game at Boston last night but has been effective lately. The Kings were 20 for 79, 25.3 percent, over their previous 16 games and had at least one power-play goal in seven of their previous nine games.

The Penguins hope to thwart any man-advantages the Kings get with an approach they are finding to their liking.

"We love it because if you stay back too long, the skill players in this league are going to pick you apart," Scuderi said. "It's nice to kind of take the shackles off a little bit and be able to go and pressure when you have a good read and you can trust your instincts."

"I would rather have them beat us being aggressive than to have them beat us laying back."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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