Penguins now in the planning stages
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NHL teams don't usually do a lot of actual game-planning.
Oh, they'll collect and analyze information on opponents' players and tactics and tendencies, but there generally isn't enough time for a detailed breakdown. Besides, some facets of the sport simply don't lend themselves to being highly structured.
It's a lot easier for a football team to settle on its first 15 plays from scrimmage before the opening kickoff than it is for a hockey club to try to script its first 10 rushes into the attacking zone.
Nonetheless, on those rare occasions when an NHL team has an extended period between games -- as the Penguins do this week -- there is an opportunity for a little extra preparation.
Which is precisely what the Penguins, idle since a 5-0 victory Saturday against Atlanta, have in mind for the days leading up to their next game, against Dallas at 7:38 p.m. Friday at Mellon Arena.
A lot of that work figures to involve the Stars' special teams, which were the best tandem in the league heading into last night's games.
Dallas' power play entered the Stars' game on Long Island ranked second in the NHL, with a conversion rate of 25.6 percent. It has been particularly productive of late, going 10 for 21 in the previous seven games.
The Stars' penalty-killing has been outstanding, too, ranking fifth in the league with a kill rate of 86.9 percent and generating four short-handed goals.
The easiest way to determine the effectiveness of a club's special teams is to add the success rates of its power play and penalty-killing. The break-even point is 100; anything above that is better than average.
While the Penguins fare reasonably well under that formula -- their power-play (20.9) and short-handed (80.9) units combined to equal 101.8 -- Dallas had a league-best total of 112.5 before the Islanders game.
Adam Hall, a fixture on the Penguins' penalty-killing unit, points to individual talent -- particularly that of Mike Modano -- as a key to Dallas' power play.
Its members' skill level isn't the only variable among power plays, however. Some are based on puck movement, with the intent of creating a high-percentage shot, while others emphasize throwing the puck at the net as often as possible and trying to capitalize on screens and rebounds and deflections.
The Penguins have employed both, and actually made significant personnel and tactical adjustments for the Thrashers game.
They put forwards Ryan Malone and Erik Christensen and defenseman Kris Letang on the No. 1 unit with Sergei Gonchar and Sidney Crosby, and bumped Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora and Ryan Whitney to the second group.
They also adopted a more blue-collar strategy, throwing pucks at Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec whenever possible and looking to exploit the follow-up chances that resulted. The early results were encouraging, as the Penguins went 2 for 3 with the extra man.
"The last game, we obviously shot the puck a lot more," said assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the power play. "We've been trying to get back to some of the principles we really believe in -- getting a lot of pucks on net with traffic in front. We don't want to get away from that too much."
Neutralizing the Penguins' new-look power play already will be a challenge for the Stars because there is so little tape of it to study, but the extra time between games might make it even tougher for Dallas because the Penguins will have a chance to add a few strategic wrinkles.
Nothing as exotic as a triple-reverse that leads to a halfback-option pass to a tackle-eligible, perhaps, but something the Stars might have no reason to anticipate.
"If you can throw something in there that they're not ready for, obviously that element of surprise [is an advantage]," Yeo said.
"It's really tough to be able to do it when you haven't practiced, to just draw it up on a board and expect the guys to execute, because the timing is so important.
"But in a week like this, absolutely. To be able to throw something different in there would be nice."
NOTES -- The Penguins have asked the league to switch the second assist on Malone's power-play goal against Atlanta from Letang to Christensen. ... Fifteen players participated in an optional workout at Mellon Arena yesterday, while the rest took part in off-ice workouts.
First Published November 27, 2007 12:00 am