Killing penalties remains a problem for Penguins
"It's definitely frustrating," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said of the team's struggles against the power play.
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Their philosophy of killing penalties, the Penguins say, has not changed.
Not even a little.
But the results certainly have.
The Penguins, consistently among the NHL's top penalty-killing teams in recent seasons, enter their game against Boston tonight at Consol Energy Center with a success rate of just 78.8 percent, which placed them 22nd in the league going into Monday.
That's significant, because the Penguins finished third in the NHL in 2011-12 (87.8 percent) and first the previous season (86.1).
And while their troubles playing short-handed hardly have sabotaged their season -- they are 18-8 and solidly in first place in the Atlantic Division -- they believe their record would be appreciably better if they killed penalties as efficiently as they have in recent years.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik said that came up in a conversation he had with penalty-killing forward Craig Adams while they were driving to Consol Energy Center before the Penguins' 6-1 victory Sunday night against the New York Islanders.
"It's definitely frustrating," Orpik said. "Like [Adams] said, 'Maybe we only have three losses if we are at the same level we were the last couple of years.' "
Although the Penguins traded two of their top penalty-killers in June, center Jordan Staal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek, their former teammates downplay the impact those departures have had.
"Those guys are great penalty-killers, but I think we have enough people who were here before who have had success," Adams said. "And we've added a couple of guys [in forwards Tanner Glass and Brandon Sutter] who are good penalty-killers, too."
While there have been a few personnel adjustments, assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the penalty-killers, said the approach to playing short-handed has not been even slightly tweaked.
"The philosophy is to be as aggressive as you can be, to be as disciplined in how you apply it and perform as you can be," Granato said.
Matchup: Boston Bruins vs. Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Tuukka Rask for Bruins; Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins.
Penguins: Have won four games in a row at home. ... D Kris Letang has assists in five consecutive games, tying longest streak of his career. ... Are only NHL team that hasn't lost in overtime or shootout this season.
Bruins: Were 8-1-2 on road before playing Monday night at Ottawa. ... D Zdeno Chara has 13 goals, 13 assists in 53 career games against Penguins. ... Are 1-1 in second game when playing on consecutive days.
Hidden stat: Bruins entered Senators game with 11 power-play goals, three more than James Neal and Chris Kunitz of Penguins have scored individually.
There are times, however, when the Penguins appear to be more passive than in the past. They insist that reflects not a change in tactics, but a decline in execution.
When defensive-zone faceoffs are lost -- the Penguins are 81 for 95 on draws while short-handed -- or the penalty-killers fail to get the puck out of their end and down the ice, opposing power plays end up with more attack time and the penalty-killers have less energy to expend trying to disrupt plays.
"We've spent more time in our own end than we normally would," Granato said. "Our ability to get clears has been down. That's part of it.
"We've given extended time in our end to teams that put us on our heels more. If you're stuck on the ice for 30 seconds, you can't be aggressive. You have to be more under control."
The Penguins have been short-handed 99 times this season and have given up 21 goals.
What's more, they have yet to score a goal while down a man or two and have generated only five shots on goal on opponents' power plays.
Such numbers can illustrate the issues caused by subpar penalty-killing. What they can't do is identify the underlying problems, let alone suggest solutions for them.
And at this point, the Penguins don't have any real explanations for, or easy answers to, their penalty-killing failings, as Orpik and Adams discussed on their Sunday commute.
"We've both watched a lot of video," Orpik said. "He said, 'I really don't see that many things we're doing that much differently,' compared to the last two years, when we were at 85 or 90 percent and first or second in the league."
Part of the problem might be, well, the problem itself. When penalty-killers struggle, they sometimes start to over-think their duties, and that just compounds their difficulties.
"When things aren't going your way, maybe you become a step slower, a step hesitant," Orpik said. "Even if you don't think you are, maybe you're approaching it to not make the next mistake."
The Penguins insist they are confident their penalty-killing can rise to its previous levels -- "We have guys who have too much pride, who work too hard at it, for it not to turn around," Orpik said -- but have found no clear route to get it there.
"There's no magic answer," Adams said. "We just have to try to do better."
NOTES -- Penguins center Sidney Crosby was honored as the NHL's No. 2 star of the week after putting up two goals and nine assists in four games. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was the No. 1 star and Los Angeles center Jeff Carter was No. 3. ... The Penguins had a scheduled day off Monday.
First Published March 12, 2013 12:00 am