The shorthanded breakaway goal New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo scored Sunday was an example of how applying pressure on a penalty kill can disrupt a power play and create an offensive chance on the other end. According to several experts around the NHL, pressure on the PK is becoming more of a trend and something we're seeing a lot of early in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I have definitely seen a trend to more aggressive penalty kills," New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer told NHL.com.
"The caliber of play is seriously unbelievable. The pace, the skill, the goaltending, the emotion in the building is all great. I was blown away by atmosphere in Chicago and Pittsburgh. Minnesota was just awesome. I was there in 2008 and it wasn't nearly as electrifying as it is now."
-- NBC's Pierre McGuire on what he's seen so far in the playoffs
"We were together four years ago too. We know each other really well. It's a good group. There are lots of opinions, lots of observations. I respect both of those guys immensely. They have been very good coaches in the League for a long time. It's great. You get different perspectives on things and you get to see different players."
-- Coyotes coach Dave Tippett on his experience as a member of Canada's coaching staff with Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz at the World Championships
The Islanders, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks are examples of teams that apply pressure on the PK. The New York Rangers did it to the Capitals late in the third period of Game 3 on Monday night and it worked to prevent Washington from scoring a game-tying goal on what was a 90-second 6-on-4 after goalie Braden Holtby was pulled for an extra skater.
DeBoer stresses it with the Devils, who've led the League in shorthanded goals the past two seasons.
"When you play a pressure penalty kill and you've got your most talented players involved in the penalty kill, I think the offense is a byproduct of that," DeBoer said. "I can tell you that's the case with us. I think one of the trends, for sure, is the majority of the best penalty kills in the League are what I would term pressure penalty kills. They're aggressive, at least at key moments anyway."
The Islanders were aggressive on that PK early in the third period of Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Okposo forced Penguins forward Brenden Morrow to make a quick decision along the wall and he threw an errant pass into space. Islanders forward Frans Nielsen got to it first and found Okposo streaking through the middle of the ice to send him on the breakaway.
"Pressure on a player puts pressure on them to make a better play," Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told NHL.com. "If they make a great play, or one or two good plays to beat you, good for them, but more times than not putting pressure on people and taking time and space away limits the opportunity to make a good play."
That's why DeBoer, Tippett and Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers told NHL.com you're seeing more teams apply pressure on the PK. But they don't just say they're going to do it and poof, it happens. There are important features a penalty kill needs in order to play a pressure game.
"No. 1, it's speed -- you have to have fast players," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "Teams are using their speed and quickness to apply pressure and to counterattack so they can transition into offense. Penalty killing used to be sit back, protect, ice the puck, change, but now teams are saying, 'We're going to force you to make a play, we're putting pressure on you.'"
Speed requires coaches to use skilled forwards on the PK. It's why you see Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Grabner, Kyle Turris, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Jeff Carter there.
"You're talking about key players killing penalties," Button said. "They're weapons. Is it a way to create more offense? Definitely."
Rotating forwards is another important aspect. The Islanders regularly use eight forwards to kill penalties. The Senators and Capitals use seven. Most teams that utilize a pressure PK system will use at least six.
According to several experts around the NHL, pressure on the penalty kill is becoming more of a trend and something we're seeing a lot of early in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo: Gregory Shamus (NHLI) / Getty Images)
"In my mind you have to be prepared to roll through four sets of forwards on a penalty kill," DeBoer said.
However, as Tippett pointed out, there is risk-reward at play. He said that's why work ethic is ultra-important.
"The one thing about it is you create holes behind you, so just like how you pressure out, you have to pressure back too," Tippett said. "It's about desperation and work ethic on a PK and that's what you see. Games are so tight, every play counts, so you might have pressure up top, but when that puck goes D-to-D, all of a sudden now that guy that was pressuring up top is helping out in the slot."
Pressure also works when you have faith in your goaltender, Laviolette said. He mentioned Ottawa and Washington as examples with Craig Anderson and Holtby.
"It's almost like they're saying, 'If you can make four passes under direct pressure and tap it into a guy backdoor standing all by himself then go ahead, but we still have our goaltender that you have to beat,'" Laviolette said. "Sometimes the confidence in your goaltender allows you to be more aggressive."
Each coach said the best way for a power play to beat the pressure is to operate quickly and keep the puck in the zone to tire out the four penalty killers. Button mentioned San Jose and Pittsburgh -- each wastes little time going to work on the power play.
"It's hard [for a PK] to turn it into an offensive chance and it's hard to be aggressive when you're tired," Laviolette said. "If you can sustain the first 20 seconds by moving the puck, having them chase it and not come up with it, you've now got tired penalty killers. You've got four guys that are chasing the puck like crazy, and that's the best way to get to a set up to where you might be able to find some offense on the power play."
Pressure is making it harder to do that now. There is evidence of it across the League.
"A player's natural reaction on the power play is to have some time and room to operate," DeBoer said. "I don't think that's the case anymore."
Tippett is in Stockholm, where he is serving as an assistant for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Championships. Toward the end of a phone conversation NHL.com had with him regarding pressure on the PK, Tippett was asked who on Canada's roster has impressed him, and is it someone he doesn't typically see a lot during the NHL season?
2012-13 REGULAR SEASON
Goals: 13 | Assists: 35 | Pts: 48
Shots: 137 | +/-: -7
He quickly mentioned the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers
, the guy Laviolette called the best player in the world during the playoffs last year.
"One guy that you can tell is just a top player is Claude Giroux," Tippett said. "He is just a real smart player, a real driven player. You can tell he's one of those players who takes responsibility for being a top player."
Giroux has a goal and two assists in three games for Canada.
"In the game [Sunday] he turned over the puck and it ended up as a goal against and you could tell that bothered him," Tippett said. "He wanted to avenge that goal against. If you don't play five or six games against him, you don't pre-scout him enough or watch him enough to dissect a tape on him. Now I see him up front and center. He's a really good player."
DeBoer on Oates: 'There's no surprise'
Count DeBoer among the people who had faith Capitals coach Adam Oates would be able to right the ship in Washington and get his team turned in the right direction. Oates spent last season on DeBoer's staff in New Jersey and the two remain close and talk often.
"He went through the identical learning curve that we went through in Jersey last season," DeBoer said. "And the impressive part for me is he did it in a shortened season with all that pressure to win games early. He kept his composure and he's come out the other side. In my mind they might be the best looking team in the East, if not one of them. I really like the look of his team."
DeBoer said he takes a measure of pride in knowing Oates may have gleaned something working alongside him last season.
Peter DeBoer is not surprised that Adam Oates has been so successful in his first season behind the Capitals bench. (Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI)
"By no means do I take any credit for his successes, but at the same you'd like to think you played a small role," DeBoer said. "We still have a real good relationship and an open line of communication."
Albert in motion
Kenny Albert is in the middle of a stretch of broadcasting nine games in 10 days in four arenas. He is doing every game of the Rangers-Capitals series on MSG Radio and has been NBCSN's lead announcer for the series between the Penguins and Islanders.
The only game in either series that Albert didn't work was Game 3 between the Islanders and Penguins on Sunday. It was an off day for him, but he showed up at Rangers practice in Greenburgh, N.Y. He has to work Games 4 and 5 between the Rangers and Capitals and Game 5 between the Islanders and Penguins before the rest of his schedule is determined.
He's lucky Fox Sports isn't doing any baseball games May 11. Albert would typically have to beg off hockey to work a Saturday baseball game.
"It's not a lot of sleep," Albert told NHL.com. "You're going on adrenaline and the actual work of doing the game is the easiest part because they're all the same teams, but I made it to all the morning skates and I'm proud of that."
Albert said the first four days were craziest for him because he was shuttling back and forth between Washington and Pittsburgh. He said he left clothes in both cities, something he has never done before. Friday was the wildest because he woke up in D.C., flew to Pittsburgh to call the game that night and drove back to D.C. to be in his hotel bed early Saturday morning.
Albert said this isn't the craziest stretch he's had in his career. In 2009 he worked four games in four sports covering three cities over a four-day period.
"That was the craziest, but this one we're doing now is definitely top three," he said.
Then there's Mr. McGuire
Even Albert had to point out the travel his occasional broadcast partner Pierre McGuire has been putting in so far in these playoffs. McGuire started with a stretch of seven games in seven days covering five cities, including two visits each to Pittsburgh and Washington.
McGuire opened with Game 1 in Chicago. From there he went to Pittsburgh for Game 1 then shot down to Washington for Game 1 of that series. He went back to Pittsburgh for Game 2 then flew to D.C. for Game 2 there. After an afternoon game, he flew to Minnesota for Game 3 between the Blackhawks and Wild then was in New York for Game 3 between the Capitals and Rangers on Monday.
McGuire attended the Sports Emmys at Lincoln Center in New York on Tuesday and will be back at it with at least three games in three cities over the next three days (New York, Pittsburgh, Washington). He'll be working games over the weekend, too, but doesn't know where yet.
"It's been good," McGuire told NHL.com. "The quality of play has been great. Working with Doc [Mike Emrick] is fantastic, it never gets old. Having a chance to work with Kenny Albert is fantastic. I worked with Dave Strader [Monday] night. When you work with guys who are really prepared it makes it much easier."