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Reirden Breaks Out Skill Drills To Help Improve Fundamentals

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
DETROIT – When the Penguins promoted Todd Reirden from head coach of their minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to assistant coach on Dan Bylsma’s staff this summer, it allowed the team to have a full-time assistant coach with National Hockey League playing experience on defense for the first time since Randy Hillier in 2005-06.

The Penguins defensemen had to take a pass from assistant coach Todd Reirden below the goal line and then fire a shot off the end boards into the slot.
With a mere days remaining in the team’s 2010 training camp, it has been easy to see Reirden’s addition paying dividends along the team’s blue line.

As a student of the game throughout his playing days – which included five seasons at the NHL level with stops in Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix – Reirden has brought a fresh perspective to teaching the intricacies of the position to the Penguins’ talented group of blueliners.

On Saturday afternoon, where the Penguins held an afternoon practice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in preparation for Sunday’s matinee tilt with the Red Wings at 5 p.m., Reirden unveiled a rather unique drill.

Because the boards at Joe Louis Arena are some of the liveliest in the NHL, and because the boards at CONSOL Energy Center have already proven to provide similar give, Reirden had the Penguins defensemen working on using the end boards in a pinball fashion to get shots to the front of the net.

“This was a good place to practice this,” Reirden said. “I had a plan to practice this the first time at this rink.”

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To the naked eye, such a drill might come across as gimmicky, but Reirden had a distinct reason why he ran the players through it.

“Right now, everyone does such a great job of getting into shooting lanes – coaches are always talking about blocking shots,” Reirden said. “Sometimes, as a defenseman, you get the puck and you don’t have a shooting lane, but you still want to be able to get the puck to the net. Sometimes you can use live boards like they have here in Detroit to help get pucks out into the slot.”

In an effort to spice the drill up, Reirden split the team’s eight defenseman into two opposing groups – white and black – and turned it into a competition.

The two teams were split onto opposite ends of the blue line and Reirden would fire a pass to them from the goal line. Once they caught the pass, the D-men had to make a move to create space for themselves, and then fire the puck at an angle off the end boards so that the biscuit ended up either in the blue crease or in the slot.

“If you got the puck to go through the blue paint you got a point,” Reirden said. “If it went into the slot, that was also a point.

“Into the slot would probably be the best, but there is no real way to measure that in terms of our competition. It’s about instilling the idea and the thought. For some guys, this is a new thought to try to create offense.”

When would a defenseman use this shot-pass way of creating a scoring chance?

“You would use this because of two factors,” Reirden said. “First, your shot gets taken away by a forward coming out to block a shot. Two, most opposing team’s defensemen are fronting pucks, so there isn’t much of a chance to get the puck through for the net-front guy.

“Now, if you throw the puck off the end boards, your offensive guy has the inside position to the puck.”

To conclude practice on Saturday, the Penguins defensemen could only touch the puck once before they had to shoot.
Reirden’s shot-pass off the back boards drill wasn’t the only skill area the Penguins defensemen focused on Saturday.

To conclude practice, Reirden broke out a one-touch drill he learned in St. Louis when he played with Hall of Fame blueliner Al MacInnis.

Again, Reirden passed pucks from behind the goal line to the D-men at the point. The premise of this drill was that the players were only allowed to touch the puck once. Basically, as soon as the rubber came to their blade, they had to have their head up and get rid of the biscuit before the opposing defenders could front their shots.

“More often than not, players catch the puck, push it ahead to themselves and then wind up and shoot – then it gets blocked,” Reirden said. “That’s a skill we worked on when I was in St. Louis playing with Al MacInnis. He would catch the puck and never look down. That’s one of the things that made him an elite defenseman and that I took from him. I have used that drill the last few years as well.

“We’ll do that drill a lot. It’s under-handling  the puck. It’s getting your head up and having your stick ready to shoot.”

The players should expect to see little drills like the ones they worked on Saturday often during the season, because as a former defenseman, Reirden knows the difference the little things can make during the course of a game.

“What I think I can bring as a former defenseman are those little intricacies into the game that you don’t get to normally practice.”

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