Molinari on the Penguins: Orpik, Zigomanis, Scuderi -- Not your first three choices in a shootout
At least once a week, when practice is about an hour old, the Penguins gather along the boards at center ice.
Then, one by one, they skate toward the middle of ice, collect a puck and move in on the goaltender, with players going toward alternating ends of the ice.
It is a shootout competition, and has been part of their workout routine during most of Michel Therrien's tenure. Not a bad idea, considering there is the potential to pick up a half-dozen points or more during shootouts over the course of an 82-game season.
The Penguins have done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times during the past three years, and the format doesn't vary.
If the forward or defenseman scores, he rejoins the group of waiting shooters on one side of the rink. If he is stopped, he heads to the far side and watches the balance of the competition, which continues until the goaltenders have denied every shooter but one.
The competition usually lasts four or five rounds, and generally is won by a forward with better-than-average offensive skills. And frankly, even though players sometimes experiment with moves -- occasionally, breaking out one that's a bit too daring to be used during an actual game -- the competitions all tend to look alike after a while.
Most of them, anyway.
Not the one at Mellon Arena Monday, though. There hadn't been one quite like it since Therrien introduced the concept, and might not be another for a while. If ever.
Not only because it lasted just two rounds, but because the three guys to make it through the first round were a checking-line forward and two defensive defensemen.
Not Petr Sykora or Miroslav Satan or Kris Letang. Not Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Alex Goligoski.
No, when everyone had gotten a chance against Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin, the only guys who had returned to the shooters' line were Mike Zigomanis, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi.
"I don't know what was going on there," Orpik said.
Pressed a bit, however, he divulged the strategy that might have played a part.
"The key is, if you watched the three of us, you get toward the back of the [shooting order], and the goalies get a little more tired as you go and you take advantage of that," he said, smiling.
Fleury and Sabourin apparently were able to catch up on their rest during the brief lull between rounds, however, because Zigomanis was the only shooter to score the second time around.
Mind you, he had a bit of an unfair advantage. He has appeared in three actual shootouts -- beat Nikolai Khabibiulin in his first one, for that matter -- whereas Scuderi and Orpik aren't likely to make it into the rotation during a real game unless Therrien looks down his bench and doesn't see anyone else except members of the training staff.
Although Orpik pointed out that "some of the guys who do well in shootouts are guys you wouldn't really expect," what Therrien saw during Monday's workout clearly didn't influence his thinking when the Penguins and Philadelphia went to a shootout Thursday.
Even though the shootout competitions add a lighthearted dimension to mostly workmanlike practices, the players take them somewhat seriously, as they should. A lot of them never will be involved in a real shootout, but if they are, being as prepared as possible isn't a bad idea.
"You have to work on it," Scuderi said. "You never know when you're going to be the 20th guy called. I have that shootout stick ready if I get my number called."
The Penguins' 7-6 victory in Detroit Tuesday, when they overcame deficits of 5-2 and 6-4 during the third period -- thanks, in large part, to a superhuman performance by Jordan Staal -- was one of their most invigorating regular-season triumphs in recent years.
Coming back like that against the team that defeated them in the Stanley Cup final five months earlier obviously was gratifying, and doing it in the hostile setting of Joe Louis Arena made it all the more so.
But an underlying element in making that victory so satisfying is the respect the Penguins have for the Red Wings who, salary-cap limitations or not, manage to be among the league's finest teams, year-in and year-out.
Detroit isn't quite on its game this season -- most of the Penguins seem to regard San Jose as the most impressive opponent they've faced in 2008-09, and it usually would be unthinkable for the Wings to squander a three-goal lead at home in the third period -- but it's impossible to ignore Detroit's track record.
That's part of the reason the Penguins entered the game believing that Detroit would provide a good measuring stick for how far they have come, and perhaps, how far they have to go.
"They're a good hockey team, and they're consistent," Crosby said. "Year after year, they're good. That says a lot about their organization and their players' commitment to making sure, each year, that they bring their best.
"I think we, over the last few years, have really taken pride in doing that, too. We haven't won the Cups that they've won, but who knows? If we keep the right attitude and the right focus, like we have, hopefully that's something that's in the future for us."
First Published November 16, 2008 12:00 am