The Pens held practice Monday afternoon at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. The only non-injured absent player was forward Chris Kunitz, who was given a maintenance day. Sergei Plotnikov took his slot in the line rushes.
The Pens used the following workflow…
As has become a staple of head coach Mike Sullivan, the group was on the ice for an intense and fast-paced practice session.
“We practice with a lot of pace. That’s the way that we want to play so we’re trying to practice that way,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “A lot of line rushes, up and down, some good skating. (Sullivan is) a big believer that to play at that pace you have to practice at that pace. That’s something that’s been pretty obvious that he wants to do since he’s gotten here.”
“I think our pace is improving,” Sullivan said. “My hope is that it translates into games.”
The importance of special teams is well known in hockey. And part of the Pens’ recent run of success – 5-2-2 in their last 9 games – has been the play of their penalty killing units.
The Pens have killed off 25 consecutive power plays against over that stretch following a perfect 4-for-4 night in Montreal on Saturday.
“I like the consistency. We have generally the same partners,” said forward Eric Fehr, who has been paired with Matt Cullen on the PK and has three shorthanded goals on the year. “We can read off of each other pretty well. When you have a chance to clear we try to get it all the way down the ice. At the same time if we get a chance to go we want to eat some time up and go on offense. I like the way we all think on the same page and it’s worked for us so far.”
Two key reasons for the Pens’ success has been a new attacking approach in the neutral zone and better reads in the defensive zone.
The new coaching staff has the Pens’ playing a different attacking style in the neutral zone, which has limited opponent’s ability to gain the zone. The Pens have not changed their approach in the defensive zone, but are making better reads on when and how to apply pressure.
“They’re recognizing when to pressure, and it’s not isolated pressure. It’s cooperative pressure. It’s two or three guys,” Sullivan said. “It’s a lot harder to beat that type of pressure. We’re recognizing when to pressure with numbers and because of that we’re getting more clears. I think we’re making the entries more difficult, so we’re spending less time in our end zone.”
Defenseman Adam Clendening returned to Pittsburgh following his conditioning assignment with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The 23-year-old played in 6 games, notching 3 assists and posting a plus-4.
“I got good reps in. Worked on some things down there that you don’t get to do without playing,” said Clendening, who was paired with Derrick Pouliot for a few games. “It’s good to get your touches back and your reps.
“It was really about maintaining. It wasn’t crazy long for last playing. It was just getting the reps. Get some power-play time, which is one of my fortes. Moving the puck and working on some stuff in the D zone. Other than that it’s playing minutes and getting reps.”