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Pens find opportunity with shorthanded goals

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins didn't score their first shorthanded goal of the season until Dec. 14. Zach Aston-Reese netted with the Penguins at a man disadvantage on route to a 5-3 home win against Boston.

Then it happened again the next night. Matt Cullen got a shortie as the Pens toppled visiting Los Angeles, 4-3.

Then the Penguins kept scoring shorthanded. Once they got started, they couldn't be stopped.

As March turns to April, the Penguins have 12 shorthanded goals, third-most in the NHL. More significant, their record in games when scoring shorthanded is 8-2-1. (The Penguins scored shorthanded twice Jan. 8 in a 5-1 home win vs. Florida.)

"It gives the team confidence," said forward Jared McCann. "We have a lot of confidence when we play shorthanded, and we get a lot of chances when we're shorthanded. The better we are on the penalty-kill, the better off we are."

McCann has been a primary catalyst when the Penguins attack on the PK. McCann has three shorthanded goals in 28 games since joining the Penguins in a Feb. 1 trade with Florida. He's got four SHGs total, fourth-most in the NHL.

Cullen and Bryan Rust each have two shorties; Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang and Riley Sheahan (now with Florida) have one apiece.

The Penguins' latest shorthanded goal came March 25 when Blueger got one in a 5-2 win at the New York Rangers. McCann got a shortie two days earlier at Dallas, his nifty spin-a-rama tally proving to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory.

"It comes from having speedy forwards," Blueger said, referring to the Pens' flurry of man-disadvantage goals. "Rusty has a couple. Jared McCann is really fast. So it's kind of being opportunistic when the puck gets turned over.

"You just look for an opportunity, a broken play, especially if you haven't been out there too long. You can use that to break the other way."

Blueger's shorthanded goal against the Rangers showcased the Penguins' speed on the PK: "The puck was bouncing, their defenseman [Kevin Shattenkirk] pinched, and the puck hopped over his stick. Rusty and I just took off. You look for an opportunity like that."

Blueger fed Rust at the goalmouth, but Rust's tip went wide. Rust quickly collected the puck below the goal line and whipped a pass to Blueger, also behind the goal line by now. Blueger brought the puck out front and buried a backhand.

"It's just being opportunistic," Rust said. "We try to play defense, and kill the penalty first. But we've got a lot of guys on the kill that can skate, and we do try to take advantage of the chances we have."

Said McCann, "A lot of us have the instinct to take advantage of it when teams are sleeping. Sometimes [their power play] doesn't expect you to pressure them as much as possible. The more pressure we can [apply], the better we are."

But, adds Rust, defense first: "You need to be able to get back in position and kill the penalty."

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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