Penguins potent at scoring short-handed goals
Bryan Rust acknowledges his goal in Saturday’s 6-1 thumping of the Toronto Maple Leafs at PPG Paints Arena didn’t mean much to the outcome of the game.
It was early in the third period and his team was already up four goals. His score merely added more security to a victory that already was safely procured.
But it was a short-handed goal. Those feel different.
“It’s obviously nice,” Rust said. “You’re not expecting to score in that situation.”
The Penguins have scored in those situations four times this season. Prior to Monday’s games, only the Vegas Golden Knights had more short-handed goals this season with five.
This short-handed scoring surge for the Penguins comes in stark contrast to last season when they didn’t score their first goal against an opposing power play until Dec. 14. Ultimately, the 2018-19 Penguins were one of the NHL’s leaders in short-handed goals with 12, but they got off to a slow start in that area.
Their first short-handed score came in the late stages of a 7-2 rout of the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 13. After Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey fumbled a puck at the offensive blue line, Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese blew past him, claimed the puck in the neutral zone and created a breakaway. Approaching the net, he lifted a wrister past goaltender Laurent Broissoit’s blocker, off a post and into the cage.
The second short-handed goal was a game-winner as it came in overtime of a 3-2 home win against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 13. In a four-on-three situation, forward Brandon Tanev challenge a tired Avalanche power play by weaving the puck into the offensive zone, then got a little lucky when his shot was deflected into the cage by Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog.
On Nov. 2, a short-handed goal allowed them to get things to overtime in a 2-1 home loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Late in the third period, Rust stole a pass in the defensive zone and created a three-on-two rush. From the left wing, Rust fed a pass to trailing defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who gripped and ripped a wrister past goaltender Mike Smith’s glove hand.
Then, on Saturday, forward Teddy Blueger stole a puck in the defensive zone to create a two-on-one rush. His feed to Rust was buried and gave the Penguins a five-goal lead.
“We changed a few things this summer,” Dumoulin said. “(Development staffer Matt Cullen) and (assistant coach Jacques Martin) did a good job of adjusting things and ways we could change it. We’re all on the same page right now. With that, it leads to opportunities.”
What precisely has been altered?
“Sometimes, we have pressure points,” Dumoulin said. “We’ve changed that a little bit. For the most part, we’re all just on the same page and helping each other.”
“Jacques always talks about being aggressive up ice and being aggressive right off the entries when they (the opposing power play) first enter the zone,” Aston-Reese said. “When you have that aggressiveness, you’re bound to get some chances.”
As a result, their penalty kill has been nearly as potent as their struggling power play, which has been limited to eight goals this season.
“We’re faster on the penalty kill,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have the ability to put more pressure on (opponents) in different areas. As a result, the guys are forcing turnovers. I give the players a lot of credit.”
In addition to feeling different, short-handed goals tend to have a different weight as it relates to the outcome of a game. Of the 59 short-handed goals scored in the NHL this season prior to Monday, 40 (67.7%) have come in victories for the team that scored them.
“Any time a team can get a short-handed goal, especially when the other team is supposed to score on the power play, it takes a lot of energy out of them,” Rust said. “If you can score that goal, it fires up your bench a little bit.”
Ultimately, the primary goal of a penalty kill is to prevent them, not necessarily score them. But being capable of scoring goals can also be a big reason teams keep pucks out of their own net.
The Penguins are second in the NHL on the penalty kill at 89.1%, having allowed only five goals on 46 opposing power-play opportunities.
“If teams know that, they’ll tense up a little bit knowing that we’re dangerous on the (penalty kill) offensively,” Aston-Reese said. “Just kind of confidence going out there. Believing that you’re going to get the job done and get a little added bonus.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .