After late-season struggles, Penguins penalty kill hits groove in time for playoffs
For the Penguins' penalty killers, March was madness.
Since the calendar flipped, though, it's been nothing but sunshine. Just in time, too: The unit was at its best in Game 1 on Wednesday, when the Philadelphia Flyers power play didn't manage a shot on goal in four opportunities during the Penguins' 7-0 win.
"The PK was good (Wednesday)," defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said.
"It's a big part of momentum in the playoffs. If you've got a good PK or not, it can change the mood of the game. It was beneficial to us last game, so we are going to do that again."
The Penguins allowed a power-play goal in 12 of 15 games in March and 13 of 16 overall before April 1.
Over the Penguins' final 10 games in March, opponents went 12 for 29 on power plays (41.4 percent). Increasing that sample size, opponents converted power plays at a rate of 36.4 percent (16 for 44) against the Penguins from Feb. 27-March 31.
For perspective, the NHL's worst penalty kill during the regular season (the New York Islanders) allowed goals on 26.8 percent of opponent chances.
But including the final three games of the regular season, the Penguins have killed 15 of the past 16 power plays.
"We had some good games toward the end of the season. We just had, like, let our foot off the gas and gave up a couple games when we didn't want to," said center Riley Sheahan, who played 4 minutes, 28 seconds of penalty-kill time, a Game 1 high among forwards.
"We have to focus on being consistent, and that's what we did last game. (The Flyers) have lot of good players out there, so we've got to key in on not giving them time with the puck and pressuring them when we can. I think we did a good job overall with that."
Ruhwedel said the strength of the penalty kill in Game 1 was on disrupting the Flyers when they entered the zone. He also noted the Penguins' shot-blocking (they had 24 in the game).
The Flyers ranked in the middle of the league (15th) on the power play in the regular season at 20.7 percent. They were 2 for 16 in four regular-season games against the Penguins. The previous time these teams met in the playoffs, the Flyers converted 52.2 percent of their chances in taking the 2012 first-round series in six games.
Though a repeat of Game 1 seems unlikely, it's certain the Flyers spent part of the past 48 hours making adjustments.
"You don't really know what they are going to do. All you can do is control what you're going to do," defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. "So whatever adjustments they make, we have to move off that accordingly. They've got a lot of dangerous players on the ice there, and I am sure they are gonna be getting their chances. We have to make sure they don't get many Grade-A (chances)."
The Penguins penalty kill was not only perfect in terms of goals and shots allowed. It also created tangible results from the momentum Ruhwedel referenced: Twice in Game 1, the Penguins scored within 30 seconds after a kill.
"It was an overall good game for us," forward Tom Kuhnhackl said. "There's a lot we can build off, but there will always be certain areas we can work on. Special teams are always a huge part of winning in the playoffs, so we just have to make sure we stay sharp."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.