As a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, the Penguins know it will take contributions of all sorts from the entire 23-man roster if another run into early summer will occur this postseason. With 18 returning members from last season’s Cup-winning squad, and 21 players with Cup Final experience, this is definitely a battle-tested team.
All of which means the players within the locker room understand the importance of even the most minute intangible each teammate brings to the equation. Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
will score the goals. Brooks Orpik
and Kris Letang
will shut down the opposing team’s top offensive talent. Marc-Andre Fleury
will be there to bail everyone out with timely saves.
Those are variables even the most novice hockey fan can appreciate with the naked eye. What may not be as apparent to fans, but is definitely so within the dressing room, is how valuable a role player such as Craig Adams
will be to the Penguins quest to repeat as champions.
As one of four two-time Stanley Cup champions on the roster, Adams knows what it takes to win at this time of year. He might have just eight assists in 68 games this season, but the gritty forward does so many little things that help add up to victories.
Rotating between center and right wing on the fourth line, Adams fulfills exactly what his role entails – making the Penguins a difficult team for opponents to play against. With 162 hits, the third most on the team and the 25th best total in the National Hockey League, it’s pretty safe to assume Adams understands his job description.
But Adams’ game is more than just being physical. He’s more than willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the team, ranking second among all Penguins forwards with 48 blocked shots.
“I don’t think those things are necessarily more important to do at this time of year but it’s certainly more fun to do it at this time of year because everything is magnified down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Adams said. “A blocked shot doesn’t hurt quite as much. And everybody is doing those things now too.”
Thanks to his defensive nature, Adams also excels as one of the Penguins’ top penalty killers on a unit which enters Saturday ranked ninth in the NHL with a success rate of 83.3 percent. Adams averages 2:38 minutes of ice time per game while Pittsburgh is shorthanded, second most on the team behind Jordan Staal
Perhaps one of Adams’ best penalty killing efforts of the season came on Thursday night against his former team in Carolina when not once but twice he stuck his stick in the passing lane to break up passes through the Penguins’ defensive box as they killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage. Both times his teammates were able to clear the puck the length of the ice as Carolina failed to score in the 1:39 minute stretch.
Pittsburgh’s kill came at a huge point in the game, near the end of the second period after the Penguins had just tied the game, 3-3.
“I want to kill every penalty, whether it is in the first five minutes (of a game) or the last five minutes,” Adams said. “The other guys do too. But it is the same as the power play or getting big saves from your goalie. It is not necessarily the numbers at the end of the day as much as it is timing. It is getting that big kill when you need it and have to get it.”
Because he is so defensively responsible, Adams is also usually one of the three forwards head coach Dan Bylsma sends over the boards in the final minute when the Penguins are protecting a close lead. In fact, he was one of the five players on the ice in the closing seconds at Joe Louis Arena last June 12 when Fleury made a diving save on Nicklas Lidstrom to ensure the Stanley Cup for the Penguins.
Adams credits his success in such situations to the mindset the Penguins have as a team, especially when a game is on the line.
“We have some good experience in this room and some guys who have done it before in big situations,” he said. “They are not intimidated. They want to be out there in the last couple of minutes. We have a room full of those kinds of guys, so I think that helps.”
It also helps having a blue-collar performer with the work ethic of Adams in the Penguins’ quest to repeat. Adams contributed three huge goals in last season’s postseason, so the coaches know he can raise his game when the situation calls for it.
“Since I’ve been here Dan’s done a great job of getting guys in there when he can and carving out roles for guys,” Adams said. “It allows everybody to contribute. By doing that he is spreading the ice time around to a point where there isn’t two or three guys who have to carry the load. That is important and it will continue to be.” PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Aftermath: Devils 3, Penguins 1