Penguins penalty killers close to perfect after 4 games
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The Penguins had the best penalty killing in the NHL last season.
This year, it's even better.
Statistically, at least.
The Penguins entered their game tonight against Washington with an unblemished record while short-handed, killing all 16 power plays they have faced in 2011-12.
They also have scored two short-handed goals, which matched the total the rest of the league had managed going into Wednesday night's games.
And while there's a lot to be said for perfection, at least in a paint-by-the-numbers way, the penalty killers contend they can -- and must -- get better.
"We've been good, but we haven't been perfect," Craig Adams said Wednesday. "Even though we've been perfect, we haven't been perfect."
Not in terms of execution, that is.
"We have given up chances," Adams said. "Some good ones."
None has produced a goal, at least in part, because of goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson.
"Our goaltenders have been great when we've needed them to be," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the penalty killers.
The Penguins likely will need some quality stops from their goalie against Washington. Although the Capitals power play has been pretty ordinary so far, scoring on 2 of 12 chances, Washington has some exceptional talent on its man-advantage unit, from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to Mike Green and Alexander Semin.
"They just have so many different weapons," Granato said, "and they're great goal-scorers."
So the penalty killers again will be called upon to throw themselves in front of pucks -- "They can make you pay if they get an open shot," Adams said -- while the goalie will be counted on to make timely stops.
But not, the Penguins hope, too often.
On either count.
"One way to have success against them, penalty killing, is to only take two or three penalties," Granato said. "If you have to kill one a period, you can live with it.
"But if you have to kill three or four in a period ... that's when you can get into big trouble."
Sidney Crosby hasn't been cleared for contact, but cross-checks apparently are OK.
As an optional practice Wednesday was winding down, Crosby and Dustin Jeffrey repeatedly engaged in a puck-protection drill along the boards in the neutral zone, with each trying to retain possession while being hounded, and occasionally hammered, from behind.
While observers regarded it as the most physical punishment Crosby has received since being diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6, coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby has "done a couple of puck-protection drills the last week."
He added that Crosby "has been doing that a little bit, kind of feeling the person on his back."
And at least in this instance, feeling the person's stick there, too.
Although the Matt Cooke-Joe Vitale-Pascal Dupuis line has been together for less than a week, it meshed almost immediately and has been consistently effective.
Which apparently is easier than trying to spell out exactly why that has happened.
"Chemistry is a funny thing," Vitale said. "You can't really explain why. I think we just read off each other pretty well. We kind of know what each others' strengths are."
Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik's next game will be his 1,314th in the NHL, tying Bobby Holik's record for a Czech-born player.
And Hamrlik, signed as a free agent in the offseason, apparently still can play a bit -- he blocked nine shots in Washington's first two games, more than twice as many as any teammate.
First Published October 13, 2011 12:00 am