Pens' penalty kill rises to occasion
Maybe it was an aberration after all.
The Penguins' penalty killing, so solid under coach Dan Bylsma with the exception of those six games against Philadelphia last spring, threw a shutout against the Flyers during Saturday's 3-1 win in Wells Fargo Center.
Despite giving the Flyers five power plays, including two in the final six minutes, the Penguins silenced one of the league's most lethal units. They also impressed their biggest rival.
“It's not like they did anything different than last year,” said Flyers point man Kimmo Timonen. “They just made good plays.”
The Flyers' power play and Penguins' penalty killing units look considerably different than last season. Gone are Jaromir Jagr (free agency) and Danny Briere (broken wrist) from the Flyers' attack, while the Penguins traded two of their best penalty killers, center Jordan Staal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
Still, even though some faces are different, the sting remains from the Flyers' 12 power-play goals in 23 opportunities against the Penguins in the playoffs.
The penalty killing unit couldn't have asked for a better start.
“It was a good feeling,” right wing Craig Adams said. “No one on the PK feels good about what happened last spring. We still have a lot of things to work on. But this feels good.”
The Flyers held the puck for long stretches in the Penguins' zone but rarely threatened with the man advantage. Only a late opportunity for Wayne Simmonds — he missed a wide open cage — qualified as the Penguins dodging a bullet. Officially, the Flyers were charged with 11 turnovers, many of them taking place on the power play.
One of the newest Penguins believes the penalty killing unit's mindset was paramount to its success.
“You have to stay calm,” said center Brandon Sutter. “You can't panic. They had some in the crease that could have gone either way. We stayed calm. We didn't worry about the emotions of it. We made good defensive plays all game.”
Bylsma was impressed with his defensemen's work around the net despite playing against rugged forwards like Simmonds and Scott Hartnell.
“We battled hard around the cage,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins killed Philadelphia's first two power plays with relative ease. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stepped up big with a couple of left pad saves during the third.
Then came the moment of truth, as penalties to defenseman Deryk Engelland and center Evgeni Malkin in the final six minutes put the game in jeopardy.
Once again, the much-maligned unit came through, with right wing Pascal Dupuis and Sutter producing big defensive plays before a Claude Giroux penalty all but ended the game.
“We felt like we moved the puck well,” Hartnell said. “Just couldn't finish anything off.”
Until last year's postseason, the Penguins' penalty killing had never been questioned under Bylsma. During his first three full seasons as head coach, the Penguins finished ninth (84.1 percent), first (86.1 percent) and third (87.7 percent), respectively, in penalty killing.
“Refs are obviously being told to crack down on things,” left wing Matt Cooke said. “We know that, but it's tough to retrain yourself.”
This game was all about retraining for the Penguins.
“They did the job,” Hartnell said.