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Very Special Teams

by Joseph Guzy / Pittsburgh Penguins

The fans at CONSOL Energy Center were able to ‘party hard’ five times in the Penguins’ 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night. Two of those came courtesy of the Pens’ power play, which has heated up since the Christmas Break.

After going seven straight games without scoring on the man-advantage from Dec. 5 to Dec. 18, the Pens have righted the ship. In their last seven contests they have converted on the man-advantage nine times.

“The last handful of games here, even when we don’t score on a given power play, it gives our team momentum,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Our bench gets energy because they’re having success and they’re getting scoring chances.”

The momentum certainly kept mounting tonight with the Pens going 2-for-4 on the power play against the Islanders, who had the NHL’s second-best penalty kill entering the game and recently established a franchise record for not allowing a power-play goal in 15 straight games.

“I thought the power play gave us momentum,” Sullivan said. “They’re winning faceoffs. They’re retrieving pucks. They’re sharing the puck and they’re moving. When they play that way they’re dangerous because they can act on their instincts. They see the game so well at such a high level that they make the plays that are there.”

Sidney Crosby is certainly one of those players and reaped the rewards on the man-advantage, scoring both of Pittsburgh’s power-play goals.

“Shoot the puck,” Crosby said before the game of the biggest key against the Islanders. “We’ve got guys who go to the net pretty hard.”

Crosby and company did just that on the first power-play goal of the night with just under four minutes left in the first period.

After a give-and-go play with Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin hammered a slap shot towards Isles goaltender Thomas Greiss. Crosby fought for the loose puck in the crease and jammed it in to put the Penguins up 2-0.

Crosby took his own advice once again on the next power-play chance halfway through the second period. Another give-and-go play with Kris Letang set up Crosby for another golden opportunity on the man-advantage.

Corralling the puck and charging at the net, Crosby fired a snap shot top-shelf over the glove of Greiss to increase Pittsburgh’s lead to three.

“The key is when they pursue and there are some openings, that you take the shot that they give you and you don’t try to force things,” Crosby said. “We made a couple of plays to try and relieve that pressure and take the shots that we did.”

As much as the man-advantage helped the Pens in their victory over the Isles, their penalty-kill unit chipped in as well.

Just 20 seconds after Conor Sheary found himself in the penalty box for tripping in the second period, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen found themselves with a 2-on-1 chance.

With Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy falling to the ice to take away the pass, Cullen opted to shoot far side on Greiss to put the Pens up 4-0 and ultimately give the Isles’ net over to backup goaltender Christopher Gibson.

The Pens’ shorthanded efforts have also been outstanding since the holiday break, going a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty.

“They quietly go about their business and get the job done,” Sullivan said. “I think the guys that are on the kill certainly are taking pride in that job and how important that job is to helping us, and they’ve done a terrific job.”

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