Penguins notebook: Team put through tough practice Monday
Coach Mike Sullivan split his players into four groups, stationed one in each corner of the neutral zone and pulled a stopwatch out of his pocket.
On his command, players skated blue line to goal line, goal line to faceoff dot and back, goal line to blue line. All the while he counted off the seconds.
“Five, six, seven,” he yelled.
The skating drill came at the end of a rigorous one-hour practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Monday morning.
Punitive bag skates are more or less a thing of the past in the modern NHL. No coach will risk wearing his players out just to prove a point. But that doesn't mean Sullivan can't work in a tough drill or a hard practice here and there to help promote his agenda.
Monday was one of those days.
“There were a few strategies out there today,” Sullivan said afterward. “Some of it involved tactics. Some of it involved a mindset and making sure that we have a certain resilience and a mental toughness to us that's necessary to win in this league.
“We were hoping to get better. We have to get better. It starts with a mindset.”
The Penguins have shown signs of life in recent days, especially when it comes to even-strength puck possession, but their penalty kill has struggled, they've given up more high-quality scoring chances than they would like and the results haven't been there. They're 4-5-2 in their past 11 games.
Coming off a 2-1 home loss to Chicago on Saturday night, Penguins players weren't surprised they were put through their paces Monday morning.
“It was a good one,” winger Conor Sheary said. “I think we needed it.”
If the Penguins had taken a close look at their schedule, they probably could have predicted the tone of Monday's practice anyway. The team is in the midst of three days without a game for the first time since the second week of the season.
“When you play 16 games in 31 nights, it's hard to have a hard practice,” Sullivan said. “It's hard to have a substantive practice. A lot of those types of practices in between games, it's more just about recovery and maybe trying to pick one area of your game where you're trying to get better.”
Olli Maatta missed practice because of illness for the second time in three days. The Penguins must not be concerned with his status for Wednesday night's game against Vancouver, however, because they assigned Frankie Corrado to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton later in the day, leaving them with Chad Ruhwedel as the only extra defenseman.
Corrado played three games after being called up Oct. 26. His demotion opens a roster spot for the imminent return of center Carter Rowney, who resumed practicing as he recovers from a broken hand suffered Oct. 21.
Winger Josh Archibald, who has played one game this season, skated with the fourth line at Monday's practice and could be in line to play against Vancouver.
Dressing Archibald, and perhaps scratching Tom Kuhnhackl to make room, would shake up a Penguins penalty kill that has slumped in recent games.
“That was one thing that I emphasized trying to further my career, the penalty kill. Helped me make that jump to the NHL,” Archibald said.
Archibald said he's tried to bring intensity to practice as he's been a healthy scratch for 21 of the team's first 22 games.
“I might not be playing, but I can help the guys that are playing, push them as hard as I can,” he said.