Penguins seeking answers to home ice woes
Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds scores in Wednesday's game on Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Will the home losing woes be cured in time for tonight's visit by Florida?
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Tomas Vokoun try to stop a goal by the Flyers' Jakub Voracek in a loss Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
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To a man, the Penguins are adamant about wanting to earn home-ice advantage for as much of the Stanley Cup playoffs as possible.
Their sincerity cannot be questioned.
Can't necessarily say the same for their rationale, though. Not through the first 17 games of this season.
The Penguins enter their game at 7:08 p.m. today against Florida at Consol Energy Center with a thoroughly ordinary -- and that's being charitable -- 3-4 record at home.
Drop them in another town, however, and the Penguins have been nearly unbeatable, going 8-2 in their first 10 away games. That includes victories in such hostile buildings as the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and Madison Square Garden (twice).
Conversely, they already have been beaten at home by three teams -- Toronto, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia -- that were staring up at them in the standings before games Thursday night.
"We've got to find a way to be better at home," center Sidney Crosby said after practice Thursday at Southpointe.
That would be fairly easy if they could put up the kind of numbers they do in other cities. Consider some of the Penguins' home and road statistics, with the away ones listed first:
Goals for (per game): 3.3, 3.29.
Goals against (per game): 2.1, 3.29.
Power-play goals: 11, 8.
Power-play goals allowed: 6, 6.
Power play success rate: 27.5 percent, 26.7 percent.
Penalty-killing success rate: 86.4 percent, 76 percent.
The Penguins are one game below .500 at Consol Energy Center.
The other 14 Eastern Conference clubs were a combined 58-41-12 at home going into games Thursday night.
Forward Tanner Glass spent last season in Winnipeg, where the Jets went 23-13-5 at the MTS Centre but just 11-22-5 on the road, so he appreciates the value home ice can have.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Jets crowds are among the most raucous in the league, while Consol Energy Center is, on most nights, among the league's most placid venues.
"We have to get the crowd into it early," Glass said.
"It seems to be pretty quiet in there most nights, so I think we have to do a better job of having good starts and getting the crowd into it early and then having them sustain that energy for us."
Strong starts carry no guarantees -- the Penguins grabbed a quick, 2-0 lead Wednesday against Philadelphia but ended up losing, 6-5 -- and the Penguins have been more susceptible to losing focus and discipline at home than on the road.
"We try to get maybe a little too cute at times, or try to play with our opponent the way they want to play the game, as opposed to the way we've been playing on the road, which has been a lot smarter," defenseman Paul Martin said.
Glass suggested that overconfidence might have been a factor in at least some of their losses
"I think we've maybe taken a few teams lightly at home, thinking it's going to come easy at home," he said. "On the road, we've prepared a little bit differently, I think, just from a mental standpoint."
Although the Penguins do not play mistake-free hockey in away games -- they squandered an early two-goal lead Sunday in Buffalo before pulling out a 4-3 victory --they do tend to be more methodical than at home.
"We just play our systems," winger Tyler Kennedy said. "And we know how to play on the road."
There have been suggestions that the Penguins' home-ice advantage is undermined, to some extent, by their home ice. Quiet grumbling about the condition of the Consol Energy Center playing surface has gone on for a while, and a team built around elite talents like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, among others, clearly would benefit from having the best ice possible.
Still, the Penguins refuse to blame the ice at home for their home-ice record.
"It's not the best ice in the league, but it's definitely not the worst," Glass said. "And both [teams] play on it, so it's fine. It is what it is."
Same with the Penguins' record at Consol Energy Center. They know it could -- and should -- be better, but also realize they could be facing more daunting challenges than upgrading it.
"I think it's easier to learn how to win at home," Kennedy said, "than how to win on the road."
First Published February 22, 2013 12:00 am