| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Power play, penalty kill help put Penguins on another 100-point pace

NHLI via Getty Images - The Penguins' James Neal (right) celebrates his power play goal with teammates during the third period against the Maple Leafs on Nov. 27, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>NHLI via Getty Images</em></div>The Penguins' James Neal  (right) celebrates his power play goal with teammates during the third period against the  Maple Leafs on Nov. 27, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
NHLI via Getty Images - Craig Adams headshot
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>NHLI via Getty Images</em></div>Craig Adams headshot

Penguins/NHL Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Up, down, not out

A look at the Penguins' special teams' performance through 32 games:

Category Record

Even-or-better 7-5-0

Plus-1 7-3-0

Plus-2 4-1-0

Minus-1 3-0-1

Minus-2 0-1-0

Rob Rossi podcasts

  • Loading...

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

James Neal's negligent knee and Brooks Orpik's battered brain brought the Penguins back to their customary spot atop the NHL's hot list.

Now a spotlight is on a club that, despite injuries that have placed no fewer than five AHL regulars on the 23-man roster for the past month, is tracking toward another 100-point season under coach Dan Bylsma. It would be the Penguins' fourth in as many full seasons under Bylsma.

Before games played Thursday night, the Penguins were:

• Fifth in win (21) and average goals against (2.22)

• Sixth in points (43) and average goals (3.00)

• Second in penalty kill (86.8 percent) and first in power play (26.1 percent)

That — in addition to three 30-point scorers (Sidney Crosby, 43; Evgeni Malkin, 38; and Chris Kunitz, 31) — is what awaits the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.

The Penguins were one of only 11 clubs — joining only Boston and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference — with a 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio above 1.10, ranking 11th at 1.11.

They were at 1.35 in that category last season, but despite a drop-off, they keep winning because they are special when the advantage is with or against them.

“Whatever your strengths are as a team, you're going to, hopefully, be able to rely on those in times of adversity or when guys are out of the lineup,” winger Craig Adams said after a practice at Southpointe on Thursday.

Orpik will become the eighth regular to miss at least two games because of an injury. That does not include backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has yet to play this season.

Crosby said rankings shape outside opinions about special teams, but he is pleased with their performances.

“We've realized that, most times, that's the game,” Crosby said. “If you can be on the plus side of that, you at least give yourself a chance to win hockey games.”

The Penguins have won the special-teams battle in 15 games. They have played it even in 12.

Without defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has missed the past 20 games, they have killed 55 of 59 penalties. They have allowed opponents only one goal on 20 power-play chances in seven consecutive games also missed by defenseman Paul Martin.

Bylsma's current options for penalty-killing defensemen include a rookie 19-year-old (Olli Maatta), a defenseman who spent about 10 games as a forward (Deryk Engelland) and a former first-round pick who had failed to win a job in training camp (Simon Despres).

Marc-Andre Fleury has helped in a big way as the only NHL goalie to play in 16 or more games and stop at least 92 percent of shots faced while his team is shorthanded. He has turned aside 99 of 107 power-play shots for a .930 save percentage.

A goalie has to be a club's best penalty killer, as Adams noted.

Any power play would benefit from a true sniper such as Neal, who has 32 goals on the advantage the past three seasons.

Neal missed 15 of the opening 16 games, and the Penguins went 12 of 58 (20.7 percent) on the power play in that stretch. However, eight of those games were missed by power-play regular Kris Letang, whose fellow point partner, Malkin, was off to a slow start — 13 points in games Neal had missed.

Also, while all of that was going on, the Penguins were implementing a new defensive system that Bylsma said required a new approach from forwards.

“We've been able to play good defense, limit teams' opportunities,” Bylsma said. “I also think you've seen special teams be a big factor.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Penguins

  1. Penguins trade Sutter to Canucks, sign free agent center Fehr
  2. Sutter: Staal effect felt on 3rd line with Penguins
  3. New Pens winger Fehr ready for defense-first role
  4. Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
  5. Reliving the moment a decade ago that shifted the Penguins history
  6. Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
  7. Penguins bring in analytics expert from Carnegie Mellon
  8. Penguins to appear on national TV 18 times in 2015-16
  9. Pens assistant GM Fitzgerald leaves for Devils
  10. ‘Warning track’ makes Pittsburgh debut at Southpointe’s Iceoplex