NEWARK, New Jersey – The Penguins find themselves in unfamiliar territory: scoring trouble. Pittsburgh has been known throughout its history for having an up-tempo, offensive style of play. But lately, the goals haven’t been there.
Pittsburgh has one goal in its past three games, being shutout twice. They outshot, 35-19, and outchanced the New Jersey Devils in a 2-0 loss Tuesday night. But one area the team failed to be effective in was their net-front presence.
“The reality is we weren’t hard enough around the net (Tuesday) night,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We didn’t battle for the rebounds. We weren’t there long enough in front of the net. We were in outside positions a lot of times when the puck was in front of the net.”
The team practiced Wednesday afternoon at the Prudential Center and net-front presence was a key part of the session. With the centers and defensemen working at one end of the ice, the wingers were at the other end battling in front of the net. After that, the team did drills designed for the forwards to fight at the crease, while the defensemen tried to keep them at bay.
“We’ve worked on (net-front) quite a bit this year, but it’s something that has to be a habit,” Johnston said. “It’s a couple things, being at the net, going to the net with a heavy stick, stick down, strong stick, good position, then there is a skill to playing the front of the net, touching pucks, coming off the goaltender, finding loose rebounds. That’s a skill and you have to work on it.”
The only player to score for the Pens in their past three contests is winger David Perron. He is no stranger to crease battles, but agreed that the Pens need to do more.
“We need to find goals and a lot of times it’s being harder on our sticks around the net,” Perron said. “Sometimes it’s a matter two or three feet, or inches away from a goal or being in the right position. That’s what matters the most. And having screens, really being in front of the goalie and not the side of the net. That’s what we practiced a lot today and hopefully it will translate into tomorrow.”
The Pens practice their net-front presence a lot during the season, but the team really emphasized it at today’s practice.
“We have a little more focus on it with a full practice,” Perron said. “That might be that spark that we need to get more.”
MALKIN UPDATE Johnston doesn’t expect center Evgeni Malkin to join the team on its current three-game road trip, though he is progressing with his undisclosed injury.
“He’ll meet us when we get back (to Pittsburgh),” Johnston said of Malkin, who’s missed the last two games. “We’ll get a skate with him and see where he’s at. It sounds like things are progressing quite well, but he won’t join us on the trip.”
Johnston added that the team has no plans to recall a player from WBS to have in case of another injury for the team’s next game in Dallas on Thursday night.
“This is the lineup we have,” he said.
WORKFLOW All the healthy Pens were in attendance at practice. They used the same workflow from Tuesday’s game.