Penguins notebook: Penalty kill showing signs of life after rough stretch
As the Pittsburgh Penguins have begun to ramp up their play heading down the stretch, picking up points in the standings in five straight games, a serious flaw remains that could easily sink their progress.
The Penguins are struggling on the penalty kill.
The Penguins have allowed at least one power-play goal in 14 of their last 20 games, successfully killing just 68.4 percent of penalties during the stretch.
In the first 46 games of the season, conversely, their penalty kill percentage (85) was among the league leaders.
The Penguins are hopeful recent events have begun to turn the tide back.
In Montreal last Saturday, they went 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. On Tuesday against Florida, they allowed a Henrik Borgstrom power-play goal in the first period, but successfully killed off an Evgeni Malkin offensive-zone minor in the third period of a tie game. They went on to win 3-2 in overtime.
“On the PK, it’s almost a feeling that creeps in when you start getting scored on consecutively,” winger Zach Aston-Reese said. “You have that little bit of doubt. When you get big kills like that, the kill needs confidence. I thought we definitely got it off of that. I thought all three units, we were pretty aggressive up ice, kind of sniffing it out.”
Getting Phil going
A day after the PPG Paints Arena crowd gave an encouraging ovation to winger Phil Kessel as his scoring drought reached 16 games, his teammates offered support at Wednesday’s practice in Cranberry.
During a special teams drill, the team’s top power-play unit was on the ice alone against goalie Matt Murray, working on concepts in a five-on-none situation.
As Kessel wired a shot in under the crossbar, his teammates slammed their sticks on the ice while hooting and hollering. Kessel pumped his fist and raised both arms in the air.
It’s clear the Penguins are doing all they can to help drag Kessel out of his slump.
“Everyone’s really supportive of him,” Aston-Reese said. “When he’s going, he’s such a dangerous player. He’s such a big part of this team on and off the ice. I feel like guys give him crap, but everyone wants him to do well.
“You saw (Tuesday) night. They put him on the Jumbotron, and the people want him to do well, too. You think of a place like Toronto where they could be booing their own guys. I think for him to be in this atmosphere, I think it’s really good for him. And it’s just a matter of time. It might not happen the next one or two games, but I feel like it’s inching closer and closer each day.”
Winger Patric Hornqvist blocked a shot with his arm in the first period of Tuesday night’s game against Florida. He did not practice Wednesday, but coach Mike Sullivan said he had the day off for maintenance.
Kris Letang, out with an upper-body injury since Feb. 23, skated with the team in a red, no-contact jersey for the second straight day, taking part in practice with few restrictions, if any.
Bryan Rust (lower body), Chad Ruhwedel (upper body) and Olli Maatta (shoulder) have not yet returned to practice with the team.
One of the most impressive features of Jake Guentzel’s team-leading 33 goals is the way he’s amassed the total with little power-play time.
He has 29 even-strength goals this season, which is fourth-best in the league, trailing only Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Patrick Kane.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .