Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s ability to find shooting lanes has evolved | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s ability to find shooting lanes has evolved

Seth Rorabaugh
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson has five points (one goal, four assists) in 11 games this season.

TAMPA, Fla. — When the Penguins traded talented shooting winger Daniel Sprong to the Anaheim Ducks for sturdy defenseman Marcus Pettersson in December, it was clear what was being exchanged.

Offense for defense.

And to this point of the 2019-20 season, that notion has held firm.

Sprong is one of his team’s leading scorers, and Pettersson is way down the list of point producers for the Penguins.

To be clear, Sprong is second on the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League with two points in four games. He has yet to skate in an NHL game this season.

Pettersson has appeared in all 11 of the Penguins games and has five points (one goal, four assists).

“Marcus’ whole game I think is evolving, offensively and defensively,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When we got him last year, we were pleasantly surprised with his instincts offensively. We felt like that was something that we could try to help him develop and get better (because) he’s a young defenseman. So he’s evolved in that capacity.”

Part of that evolution has involved promotion. Primarily used on a third pairing with Erik Gudbranson or Jack Johnson upon his arrival to Pittsburgh, Pettersson has been bumped up to the second pairing along with Justin Schultz. He also has become a staple on the second power-play group.

Each of those assignments nearly led to a tying goal in Tuesday’s 4-2 road loss to the Florida Panthers. Down 2-1 with 13 minutes, 37 secpmds remaining in regulation, Pettersson cranked a slapper from left of the high slot just wide of the cage. Forward Jake Guentzel was positioned in the left circle and re-directed the puck on net with his forehand, forcing Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to scoot to his right and kick out the puck.

Still down a goal later in the third period, with 7:50 remaining, Pettersson and the second power-play squad established possession in the offensive zone. Off a feed by Johnson, Pettersson golfed a one-timer that Bobrovsky fought off. On the ensuing scramble for the rebound, forward Zach Aston-Reese just missed a goal by putting a backhander off the right post.

In each instance, Pettersson maneuvered himself into position to find a shooting lane that allowed him to put a shot on net or create a scoring opportunity for a teammate.

“I’m a little bit more patient waiting for those shooting lanes,” said Pettersson, who is in his second full NHL season. “Or finding sticks if the shooting lane is not there. I’ve been doing a better job at at.

“It’s something I want to work on and be a little bit more patient up to. I’m working towards it.”

That work has been evident since the 23-year-old joined the Penguins. He is typically one of the final players off the ice for practices or morning skate, even staying out longer than teammates fighting to stay in the NHL or destined to be healthy scratches.

“He’s very deceptive,” Gudbranson said. “He’s got a really good shot. Certain guys just have that knack for having shots that can get tipped or placed in good places, in (teammates’) wheelhouses and stuff. He works extremely hard on it. He’s always taking shots after practice. You can tell it’s getting to another level. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to continue to get better.

That improvement hasn’t happened without guidance. As is the case with all the team’s defensemen, Pettersson has sat at the learning tree of assistant coach Sergei Gonchar. During his playing career, Gonchar was one of the NHL’s premier defensemen at identifying and waiting for shooting lanes from the point.

“Sergei helps those guys with those subtleties of the game,” Sullivan said. “He was so good at it himself. And Sergei’s got a real nice way of communicating with these guys. He has a great relationship with them. When it comes to the subtleties of that position, Sergei does a lot of work with these guys.

Added Petterson: “If you get a pass, be able to be quick. It’s going to close up real quick. There’s a lot of good shot blockers in this league right now. Just getting it off quick and making sure it gets there. (Gonchar has) worked a lot with me about that.

How exactly does one work on that specific aspect of finding shooting lanes?

“Just grind at it,” Pettersson said. “Get a lot passes and be able to shoot quick. Get the puck to settle down and shoot the puck quick. Work on the movement and be more confident and be able to move out there. Because if you stand still, you’re an easier target out there.

Pettersson’s basic offensive numbers won’t make anyone forget the offensive exploits of Gonchar or even Moe Mantha. But since joining the Penguins, his offensive production has never been better than at any other point in his professional career:

“Yeah, it’s a great team to play for,” Pettersson said. “I want to be able to do that and I’ve gotten opportunities to do that here. Fortunately, it’s happened that way. I’ve got to keep shooting pucks at the net because that’s where good things happen.”

A lot of positive things are taking place the more he shoots a puck.

“He’s getting pucks through better from the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. “He has more confidence, so he hangs onto the puck. He has the ability to change his angle if he needs to, to open up a shot lane. He can utilize his reach to change his angle. He’s evolving offensively in a number of different capacities.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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