Penguins' Sutter has only one goal in mind



RALEIGH, N.C. -- It probably doesn't upset Brandon Sutter much that eight of his teammates have recorded more shots on goal than he has this season.

It might not even bother him that 14 of them have more goals.

But it's safe to assume that he wishes that, as the Penguins prepare to face Carolina at 7:08 p.m. today at PNC Arena, he wasn't sharing his spot in the team goal-scoring race with a group made up mostly of defensive defensemen, injured guys, minor league call-ups and goaltenders.

Sutter, you see, is shooting 0 for 15 from the field through the Penguins' first 11 games.

That hardly constitutes a crisis, given Sutter's job description as a third-line center, but the slump is something he and the coaching staff would prefer to discuss in the past tense.

 

"Offensively, he could contribute more," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards. "He's had some chances now. If he can get one, he can get rolling.

"He's a good scorer. It's something that's still going to be expected of him, to contribute offensively."

Sutter, who had 11 goals in 48 games last season, has chipped in four assists, and figures he doesn't need to make any major adjustments to his game to help him get a puck past an opposing goalie.

"I just have to keep shooting, keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "I'm more worried about the other part of the game than I am scoring goals."

There hasn't been much reason for him to fret about the other facets of his game, though.

He is handling his defensive responsibilities, including killing penalties, effectively, and has won a hefty share of faceoffs -- 57.1 percent.

That that figure is good enough only to rank him third among Penguins centers speaks more to the early season proficiency of Evgeni Malkin (57.9) and Joe Vitale (57.7) than it does to any shortcomings by Sutter.

He also has been the Penguins' best faceoff man on the road, at least among those who have handled more than nine.

He is 36-22 on away draws, a success rate of 62.1 percent. That not only is the best on the team, but is significantly higher than his rate at home -- 53.9 percent.

Which means pretty much nothing, really, because of the small sample size available in late October.

"If it was at the 40-game mark or something, we would look into it and see why those numbers were skewed that way," Granato said.

Sutter said he agrees it's too early to read anything into his win-rate on road faceoffs, but acknowledged that, while a miserable game at the dots always is possible, he has fared pretty well there through the early weeks of the season.

"They're one of those things where, game to game, you never know," he said. "So far, it's gone pretty well."

Although the same cannot be said of his efforts to score a goal, Sutter said he isn't inclined to make radical changes -- be it to his stick pattern or his game-day routine or anything else -- when he's struggling to find the net.

"The only time I change things like that is if I feel I'm not playing well," he said, adding that, "it'll be nice to get that zero off the board and not have to worry about it anymore."

It probably would be even nicer if he could get goal No. 1 against Carolina, a team that drafted him and with which he spent his first four NHL seasons.

This will be Sutter's fifth game against the Hurricanes since being traded in the deal that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina in 2012, however, so the novelty of playing against guys who used to be his teammates is nearly gone.

"The first couple [of games] are kind of tough, but I think that now, I'm kind of past that," Sutter said. "We played them already this year and it just felt like a normal game. It just feels like playing hockey."

He knows that feeling very well, of course.

The idea now is to get reacquainted with the one that comes from scoring a goal.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.

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