Drawing penalties is part of Brandon Tanev’s value to the Penguins
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — During the middle stages of a tight defensive contest with the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins opened the scoring with a power-play goal off a deflection by Sidney Crosby.
It proved to be a vital score as the Penguins won 2-1.
That goal was credited to Crosby, and it was the 137th time he has scored on a power-play in his fantastic career.
But it was created by Brandon Tanev.
Moments earlier, Tanev was slammed to the ice by Josh Manson, a rugged Ducks defenseman. Manson went to the penalty box for roughing while Tanev went to his bench to watch his teammates go to work with the man advantage he manufactured.
It’s a trait Tanev tends to excel at better than most players in the NHL.
This season, Tanev has drawn five penalties in five-on-five situations, second most in the NHL through Sunday’s games.
It’s one of the characteristics of his game the Penguins liked when they opted to sign him to a six-year, $21 million contract, the longest such deal the Penguins have signed with an unrestricted free agent.
“His speed has a lot to do with it,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He challenges people with his speed, and as a result, he’s forcing players to have to defend him and it’s hard to defend speed. That has a lot to do with it. He’s also a real gritty kid. He’s competitive. He’s around the puck, he’s on the puck a lot, especially in the offensive zone. For those reasons, teams are forced to have defend him. … That’s a big part of his game. That’s one of the areas that he helps us.”
Coaches at all levels tend to be infatuated with players who draw penalties. The benefits are pretty obvious.
“I don’t know how a coach wouldn’t like it,” Sullivan said. “It puts you on the power play. It gives you a better chance to win. When you have players who are forcing their opponent to defend them, that’s usually when infractions occur. The guys that you’re talking about, they’re hard on pucks. In (Tanev’s) case, he’s got speed to his game. He’s challenging people with his speed, he’s forcing them to defend him. And a result, (he’s) drawing a lot of penalties. It gives our power play an opportunity to be the difference. That’s a good thing for any team.”
Tanev has more than twice as many penalties drawn at five-on-five play as any of his teammates this season.
He takes prides in being able to put his more skilled teammates on the ice for a power play with such regularity.
“If you can play your game, you can draw penalties by working hard,” Tanev said. “That’s a part of my game I want to be good on.”
If there are nuances to Tanev’s methods in how he goads opponents to rough, hook or interfere with him at such a frequent pace, he’s not offering them.
“You can put yourself in position to make the other guy uncomfortable,” he said. “Then you go from there.”
Many times, drawing a penalty can be a group accomplishment.
“Even when it’s not me personally but I’m out there and it’s our line that draws one, it feels pretty good,” forward Zach Aston-Reese said.
But what’s the line between drawing penalties regularly and embellishing? Or diving?
“It’s a pretty hard line,” Tanev said. “You don’t want to be labeled as something like that. But if you play hard, skate fast and do the right things, the (referees) will distinguish that themselves.”
Said Sullivan: “They’re two completely different things. We’re asking our players to challenge people, and when you challenge and force your opponents to defend, then penalties occur sometimes.”
They often occur when Tanev is on the ice.
“Specialty teams are a big part of a game,” Tanev said. “Anytime you can draw a penalty and get a power play, it’s huge. It’s a huge piece of the game.”
Notes: The Penguins had a scheduled day off Monday. … Crosby was named the NHL’s third star of the week.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .