Penguins: Style points don't count when it comes to power play
Penguins left wing Matt Cooke, center, celebrates his first-period goal with teammates Pascal Dupuis (9) and Matt Niskanen (2) during season opener against Vancouver.
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CALGARY, Alberta -- There are style points, and then there are standings points.
Guess which one the Penguins prefer?
This is a team with the skill to produce pretty goals and highlight material -- although it is without one of its elite players, injured center Sidney Crosby, for now.
But beauty is secondary, especially when it comes to the power play.
- Game: Penguins vs. Flames
- When: 10 p.m.
- Where: Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta.
- TV: Root.
For all their talent, the Penguins ranked just 25th in the NHL with a 15.8 percent success rate on the power play last season. So they were thrilled to get two power-play goals in three tries in a season-opening, 4-3 shootout victory Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks in British Columbia.
Even if those goals weren't the product of pretty, precision plays.
"Since I was a kid, no one ever said, 'Well, how did you score this goal or how did you score that goal?'" winger Matt Cooke said after practice Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Penguins play the Calgary Flames tonight.
Cooke had one of those power-play goals, not his specialty as he was simply out on a line change for the final seconds with a man-advantage. He also helped the Penguins decidedly win the special-teams front by adding a short-handed goal as part of a penalty killing unit that stifled the Canucks' three power plays.
Cooke's power-play goal was set up on a pass from behind the net by Pascal Dupuis.
"It's almost a five-on-five type play that we've tried to fit into our zone," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's a nicely executed play. [Defenseman] Paul Martin comes down and creates the loose puck, and Pascal makes the play to Matt Cooke.
"It's a nice goal. It's a good offensive zone goal. We'll take it that it's a power-play goal."
Winger James Neal got the other power-play goal when he threw the puck at the net from nearly behind it, and Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo didn't react properly and the puck went in off of his right leg.
"It definitely was a good night," Neal said. "We've put a lot of emphasis on our [penalty killing] and [power play]. With the way the [power play] went last year, we wanted to bounce back and redeem ourselves. I think we did that [Thursday] night."
These were not necessarily plays that flew off of Bylsma's dry-erase board and came to life on the Rogers Arena ice, but he's not second-guessing the goals, not after last season's statistics.
"I wish I could complain about power-play goals," Bylsma said. "We'll take success on the special teams."
It starts over again against Calgary, which last season ranked eighth on the power play at 19.5 percent and 21st in penalty-killing at 81.2 percent.
Cooke figures it is important to have another good showing on special teams.
"Success breeds success," he said. "When you're having success, you feel confident. You feel like you're getting the job done.
"The special teams battle is one that we want to win game in, game out. It might not be that we're always going to get two power-play goals, and it might not always be that we're always going to score a shorthanded goal, but as long as we feel that we come out even or on top of that battle, then we give ourselves the best chance to win."
The Penguins last season led the NHL in penalty-killing at 86.1 percent. That was a product of strong skating, stalwart goaltending and an aggressive edge.
The power play, when operated by the book, features crisp puck movement, a strong presence around the net and good possession time. But blue-collar and opportunistic plays can work, too.
"Sometimes it's not the prettiest thing on the power play, but it still works and it still gives momentum to your team," defenseman and point man Kris Letang said.
Letang was on the ice for 2:09 of the 2:46 of power-play time as the quarterback of the unit. He has a strong shot, but that really didn't come into play.
"We didn't have a chance to set up really," he said.
It turns out, they didn't need to get that far.
They could have plenty more chances to play up or down a man or two, Dupuis figures.
"It's early in the season, and the refs are trying to crack down on stuff and show where they draw the line," he said. "The teams will be on the power play quite a bit.
"If we can keep scoring goals and kill the penalties like we have been doing, that's big."
First Published October 8, 2011 12:00 am