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Penguins penalty kill saves win against Maple Leafs

by Corey Masisak

TORONTO -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have the top-rated power play in the NHL, but their special-teams work at the other end of the ice helped preserve a 2-1 win Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto had six opportunities with the man-advantage, including a 6-on-4 situation for two minutes late in the third period, but Pittsburgh's penalty killers were perfect.

"It is all about dedication and blocking shots, hard work and goaltending," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. "All these pieces were on point [Friday] and that's why we came out of here with a big win."

Toronto's power play features one of the best shooters in the League, Phil Kessel, and other players who can really blast from the point, but goaltender Thomas Greiss and the Penguins won this battle at Air Canada Centre.

Eleven of Toronto's shots officially came with the extra man, and a couple more came during a delayed-penalty sequence in the first period with the goaltender pulled. Greiss made a couple of fantastic saves, including connecting with a deflected shot in midair with the paddle of his stick in the final minute.

There has been plenty of attention for Pittsburgh's power play, which leads the NHL at 33.9 percent though that figure has regressed in the past few games. After this 6-for-6, the Penguins are second in the League on the penalty kill at 88.7 percent.

First-year coach Mike Johnston has instilled a puck-possession infused philosophy, and that was evident as the Penguins dominated this game at even strength. They were unable to find any separation because of several near-misses and squandered scoring chances, and took too many penalties.

The team that has the puck more should, in theory, draw more penalties than it takes, but that was not the case Friday.

"There's a couple different guys on it, definitely," Dupuis said. "There is the old cliche that says your goaltender has to be your best penalty-killer. Tonight, [Greiss] was. Marc-Andre [Fleury] and Greiss have been since we had that little skid where I think we gave up six goals in three games, I think our penalty-killing has been really good."

Dupuis is correct about the traditional idea about what makes a penalty-killing unit successful. Analytic studies have shown a goaltender's save percentage while shorthanded is far more random than at even strength.

The teams that can best limit shot attempts despite having one fewer player on the ice can mitigate some of that randomness. Pittsburgh is a middle-of-the-pack team at yielding shot attempts per 60 minutes while shorthanded (18th according to and this game didn't help them improve.

It is an area where the Penguins could stand to be better, even though at the moment the penalty kill is succeeding at an incredible rate.

This was a weird game. Pittsburgh dominated at even strength, collecting nearly 65 percent of the shot attempts, but the Penguins kept taking themselves out of 5-on-5 situations with penalties.

The power play has won them a few games already this season, but it was up to the penalty killers this time.

"We have a lot of confidence in our kill," Johnston said. "We've had one goal in the last six or seven games, and that was the other night against the [New York] Rangers (a 5-0 loss Tuesday). I think our penalty kill has given us a lot of confidence. We have to be able to play in games like this when you have a 2-1 lead and you have to kill a penalty at the end of the game. I thought it was a real character win when you see guys blocking shots like they did [Friday]."

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