The Pittsburgh Penguins
’ penalty kill wasn’t all that special during the regular season, but it has been downright superb in the playoffs.
“I think we’re pressuring the puck a lot more,” said Jordan Staal, one of the Penguins’ top penalty killers. “We’re doing a great job of making them make mistakes.”
The Penguins finished in the bottom third of the NHL during the regular season with an 81-percent success rate while shorthanded. In the postseason, they have allowed only two power-play goals against 22 chances, good for a 90.9 percent success rate, which is second only to Detroit among teams that are still playing.
They may have put forth their best shorthanded effort Sunday in Game 2 against the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh gave the Rangers six power plays, which could have been enough to doom them in a tight-checking, low-scoring game. However, they killed off all six and allowed only nine shots on goal in the process en route to a 2-0 victory at Mellon Arena.
The Rangers had two power plays in the final six minutes of the game, managing just three shots combined in the four minutes. The Penguins, meanwhile, cleared the puck out of the zone a combined six times during those final two shorthanded situations.
“I thought it was huge,” said center Maxime Talbot, another key shorthanded contributor. “That is the key to the game. You want to kill them off, and that’s what we did. The Rangers have a great power play and we’re going to have to bring that to the road now.”
Talbot said the additions of Pascal Dupuis and Hal Gill at the trade deadline have made the Penguins penalty kill formidable. It still finished 21st in the NHL, but the Penguins improved after the deadline.
“The goalie is always the best killer out there, and (Marc-André) Fleury is playing great, but we have been improving a lot since (the trade deadline),” Talbot said. “We know how important it is right now to get the job done.” Adam Hall, who has taken over for the injured Gary Roberts, wouldn’t discount the notion that the intensity of the playoffs and the noise in each building helps create a strong penalty kill.
The Rangers-Penguins series got chippy on Sunday and the capacity crowd was once again a great weapon for the home team.
“Everything in the playoffs is magnified by 1,000 percent,” Hall said. “The crowd noise is so much louder it makes it tougher to communicate and talk. There is so much more intensity and adrenaline. All that I think adds to it.”
Of course, though, Hall had to give credit to Fleury, who has stopped 27 of the 29 shots he’s faced while shorthanded.
“Our goalie has been standing on his head, just unbelievable,” Hall said. “The defense has been strong clearing pucks. This is definitely the time of year you need that to fall into place if you expect to go far.”
On Sunday, as the Penguins have done throughout the playoffs so far, they didn’t allow the Rangers many second and third chances. If Fleury left a rebound, a defenseman was there to clear it away.
“That’s the way we want to play it,” Dupuis said. “We know Marc-André is going to make the first save. If we ask him he can make the second one, but we don’t want to see that so we’ll take those rebounds away.”
Rangers coach Tom Renney commented on how he’s noticed a difference between the Penguins’ penalty kill in the playoffs as opposed to the one in the regular season.
The Rangers scored nine goals in 42 power-play opportunities against the Penguins during the regular season. They have one goal in nine power-play opportunities through two playoff games, and have come up empty in their last eight.
“I think they’re more aggressive,” Renney said. “They’re jumping as you should with their four guys. I think they’re hunting pucks down well and working well. I don’t know if there is any real formula, it’s just terrific work habits on their part.”
Those work habits were evident late in the third period when the Penguins killed off a pair of penalties. Petr Sykora went out for high-sticking with 6:06 remaining and Gill left for cross-checking Sean Avery in the crease with 2:22 left. The Rangers nearly managed a goal with Sykora in the box, but it was waved off because the whistle blew before Martin Straka’s shot squirted through Fleury’s legs and into the net.
The Rangers didn’t get a shot off with Gill in the box, even though Renney pulled Henrik Lundqvist during the power play to create a two-man advantage.
“Especially the last two chances they had on the power play, our guys did a fantastic job,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “Special teams were a key factor.”
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