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Penguins notebook: Sill thrives on penalty kill

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 6:57 p.m.
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The Penguins' Zach Sill works against the Islanders' Anders Nilsson and Travis Hamonic during the first period Dec. 3, 2013, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.

With Evgeni Malkin in the penalty box and the Penguins forced to kill a penalty just to reach overtime against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, coach Dan Bylsma could have turned to a number of veteran penalty killers.

Instead, Zach Sill's name was called.

The rookie forward, with all of three games to his credit, appreciates that his coach believed in him enough to play in that situation.

“It's great that coach Bylsma can trust me to be out there in a PK situation in a tight game like that,” Sill said. “There were only a minute and 50 seconds left. It's great having that kind of responsibility.”

Sill has been a strong penalty killer at the AHL level, and it's a quality that the Penguins value most in him.

Sill excelled late against the Islanders, helping the Penguins earn a couple of valuable clears before New York's Thomas Vanek took a penalty.

“Penalty killing has been a natural thing for me,” Sill said. “It just fits my role as a grinder who works hard. I thrive when I get an opportunity to screw up someone's power play. I just want to outwork people. You have to outwork the other teams' power play, and that has come naturally.”

Sill doesn't know how long he will be in the NHL, but he intends on making the most of his opportunity.

“It's pretty safe to say,” he said, “that I'm thoroughly enjoying myself being here right now.”

Quite a test

San Jose enters Thursday's game with three regulation losses while sporting the NHL's best record.

The Penguins are one of the Eastern Conference's hottest teams and have the league's two leading scorers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“We have a lot of respect for them,” San Jose winger Patrick Marleau said. “Obviously they're a great team, and this will be a great test.”

The Penguins historically struggle against the Sharks. For instance, they haven't won a game in San Jose since 1997.

“We don't see them often, but we'll learn about them,” right wing Craig Adams said. “There won't be any secrets when the game starts.”

San Jose coach Todd McLellan said the Sharks pride themselves on being deep down the middle, but he realizes the Penguins present a unique challenge.

“(Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin,” McLellan said, “are the elite.”

Wild, wild west

Of the teams with the 10 highest point totals, eight come from the Western Conference.

Only the Penguins and Bruins crack the top 10 from the East.

McLellan joked that he constantly is asked to explain the phenomenon.

“You have no idea how many times I'm asked that question,” he said. “I really don't know. We've thought about the lockout and its effect. But it's just pure speculation. Will it even out in the second half? Maybe.”

Taking it easy

Bylsma gave the Penguins an optional practice Wednesday. Most took the day off.

San Jose orchestrated a full-team but brief practice. The Sharks won the night before in Toronto.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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