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Pens Talk the Special Teams Battle

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
A major key to which team wins this first-round series will be who wins the special teams battle.

The Flyers finished the regular season with 66 power-play goals, the most in the league. But something that the Penguins players pointed out is that Philadelphia also drew the most penalties, with 335 total power-play opportunities.

“They do go on the power play quite a bit,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “They do get involved in a lot of stuff after the whistle. That’s why they have so many goals on the power play.”

That being said, the Penguins have a simple solution for keeping Philly from converting on the man-advantage.

“We would like to give them as few power-play opportunities as possible,” forward Craig Adams said. “We’re going to do our best against it, but the best way is to keep them off the ice.

“They have a really good power play. I think it’s something their team feeds off of.”

Philadelphia runs an umbrella formation quarterbacked by veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Wayne Simmonds plants himself in front of the goalie while Scott Hartnell can usually be found in the slot between the hash marks. Hartnell led the Flyers (and ranked second in the NHL behind James Neal, 18, with 16 power-play goals), while 11 of Simmonds’ 28 tallies came on the man-advantage.

Jakub Voracek is usually on the halfwall while elite playmaker Claude Giroux tends to roam. Giroux’s 38 power-play points led the NHL. Their second unit is usually made up of Matt Carle on the point, Jaromir Jagr and Matt Read around the halfwalls and Danny Briere and Brayden Schenn around the front of the net.

“They move the puck around pretty well,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. “They shoot the puck well. They crash the net. They have some big guys that do a good job in front of the net screening or going for rebounds. Definitely one of the best power plays in the league and we’ve got to make sure we stay disciplined and don’t give them any extra power plays they don’t need.”

Though it’d sure be nice, Adams, Dupuis, Michalek and the rest of Pittsburgh’s penalty killers know their team won’t be able to avoid taking penalties during this series.

They finished the season with the league’s third-ranked penalty kill – establishing a franchise record for the highest single-season success rate on the penalty kill (87.8). The players that are utilized while shorthanded – shotblocking specialist Michalek, rugged, responsible blueliner Brooks Orpik and forwards Adams, Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal – have been together for a long time, and their familiarity and comfort level with each other shows.

“Our PK has been good this year, so we’re going to rely on it in the playoffs,” Michalek said. “We’re going to have to do a good job and it’s going to be a big challenge to stop one of the best power plays in the league.”

“We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing all year,” Staal added.

While Pittsburgh’s PK vs. Philadelphia’s PP seems like the easy matchup to watch, perhaps it’s actually the other way around.

The Penguins’ power play tied Philadelphia for the best mark in the Eastern Conference and fifth in the league with identical 19.7-percent success rates.

While Steve Sullivan and Kris Letang have alternated on the first power-play unit, the other four players have remained the same: Chris Kunitz and James Neal down low, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around the walls. Neal’s 18 power-play goals led the NHL, while Malkin ranked second in the league behind Giroux with 34 power-play points.

They’ll be matched up against Philadelphia’s 17th-ranked penalty kill, anchored by former Penguin Max Talbot.

“We have to make sure our units win the special teams battle,” defenseman Paul Martin said.
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