CRANBERRY TWP. — Perhaps the Penguins’ ailing penalty killing unit could be aided by a player who has been synonymous with the term healthy scratch this season.
John Archibald thinks he can. If the right wing gets the chance after appearing in just one of the Penguins’ first 22 games.
Archibald received a regular amount of line rushed during the tail end of practice Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. That was a welcome moment for a player who has been on the ice for all of 10 minutes and 51 seconds this season.
“It was nice to get in some rushes instead of just switching out here and there,” Archibald said. “Things change day to day, so that’s how I’m going to take it.”
The Penguins are 25th in a 31-team league in penalty killing at 77.3 percent. That is part of the reason why they are off to a lackluster 11-8-3 start following back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
“It’s one thing I’ve emphasized to further my career and make the jump to the NHL,” Archibald said of penalty killing. “We had a good PK in Wilkes-Barre last year and hopefully I can bring it to Pittsburgh if I can get into some games here.”
The NHL, of course, is not the AHL. However, on Monday, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan sounded like he was open to new ideas with the penalty kill going into Wednesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG Paints Arena.
The visiting Chicago Blackhawks scored both goals on the power play Saturday night in a 2-1 victory over the Penguins and had five power-play opportunities.
“I’m a small body, but I like to hit people”
The 25-year-old Archibald has a very small sample size of just 12 career regular-season games in the NHL. The Penguins’ sixth-round draft pick in 2011 played in one game in 2015-16, then 10 games last season. He also played in four playoff games.
While his Corsi (40.8) and Fenwick (42.0) percentages are below average, one of Archibald’s three goals has come shorthanded.
“He’s got a lot of speed,” Sullivan said. “He’s a good penalty killer. He is someone we could certainly go to.”
Some of Archibald’s teammates refer to him as an “energy player” and that brings a smile to the face of the 5-foot-10, 176-pounder. The Penguins have often looked like a team in need of a can of Red Bull —or at least a strong cup of coffee — during the first quarter of the season.
“Using my speed, that’s one of my assets,” Archibald said. “Making it hard on the defense by getting in on the forecheck. Getting back on the pucks. Tracking back on D and making it tougher on the other team in our zone. Hitting guys. I’m a small body but I like to hit people.”
While changing personnel is one way Sullivan might try to fix the penalty-killing unit, he believes the Penguins must ultimately become more disciplined. They are average 12.27 penalty minutes a game, which ranks fourth in the league, and their 110 penalties are second behind the Nashville Predators’ 120.
“We’re capable of being very good,” Sullivan said of the PK. “We’ve shown stretches where the penalty kill has been locked in. There is a correlation between the number of penalties and the penalty kill. We need to stay out of the penalty box. It’s hard to win when you’re giving up two goals on the penalty kill (in a game). It’s putting your team at a real disadvantage.
“We’ve had a handful of games where certain guys are getting overtaxed because we’re on the penalty kill so often, and other guys aren’t getting much time on the ice because of it, and it disrupts your bench to a certain extent.”
Perhaps Archibald can help. He has patiently waited his turn as his lone action came Nov. 1 in a win over the Oilers at Edmonton.
“One of the biggest things you can control is your attitude, how you come to the rink and have fun with it,” he said. “Adding intensity (at practice) is one of the biggest things I’ve tried to do. I might not be playing but I might be able to help the guys who are by pushing them.”
John Perrotto, a long-time reporter for the Beaver County Times and Fan Rag Sports, is now part the Pittsburgh Hockey Now team. In addition to being a baseball reporter for USA Today, John will be covering the Penguins for PHN. Please follow him on Twitter @Jperrotto