Cranberry, Twp — The Pittsburgh Penguins Monday practice wasn’t big on even-strength form or systems. We also did not see the return of Chad Ruhwedel or Marcus Pettersson, both of whom are nearing the end of their 10-day COVID protocol.
The Penguins four COVID cases, Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Chad Ruhwedel, remain in protocol, according to acting head coach Todd Reirden. Also, head coach Mike Sullivan remains in protocol, too.
Rather than Sullivan drilling concepts on Monday, acting head coach Todd Reirden turned the boys loose.
More skating and shooting. Lots of special teams and special situations.
The first drill of practice was an often used 3v3 drill with dual nets and stationary midwall shooters. After a few goals, things got boisterous, and the boys were into it.
The uptempo palette cleansing practice also included two-on-one drills and three-on-two with trailers.
And they did three-on-two rushes with trailers. No video of this drill is necessary. The rushes invariably met with a sloppy or unproductive end. The Penguins lineup just doesn’t have the skill to weave pretty odd-man rushes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins power play is one of the worst in the NHL. Sure, no Evgeni Malkin, no Sidney Crosby (except for one game), and a rotating crew of injured or ill wingers has something to do with the ineptitude. But many lesser talented teams still make the power play work.
The Penguins are 27th in the 32-team league at 11.8%.
Through the first 10 games, the Penguins PP1 has allowed goalies to see the shots and created few scoring chances and even less momentum.
Monday at practice, the Penguins went full-on PP1 vs. PK1 and PP2 vs. PP2.
We took video, but it’s not suitable for weak stomachs or faint of heart; bouncing passes, broken plays, and stolen pucks highlighted the segment. The Penguins penalty kill, which is ranked first in the NHL, thoroughly dominated. Towards the end of the drills that concluded the Penguins’ nearly hour-long practice, the PK half-heartedly filled lanes and gave the PP space.
It still didn’t help.
Reirden acknowledged the man-advantage hasn’t been so hot and cited some chemistry issues.
“Certainly, the numbers are not where we want them to be, and you know, that’s just telling it straight up as it is. You know, Kapanen’s hat trick goal was right after a power play situation where we have our four forwards on the ice and were able to take advantage before they get on,” Reirden said.
“…Hopefully, we can use that as some momentum moving forward here. It’s a little bit of the consistency of having the same players, the chemistry that we had started to have as the year went on last year, I think was really a difference-maker for us … Now it’s up to the guys that are putting those situations to take advantage of those opportunities…”
Only through the strength of the Penguins PK do they have a positive special teams differential. The power play has scored four goals, and the PK has allowed just two.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have allowed four goals against an extra-attacker. Tampa Bay scored. The Philadelphia Flyers and the Minnesota Wild also popped goals with an empty net with the last week. On Saturday, both Bryan Rust and acting head coach Todd Reirden said the team has to “get on their toes,” and they have been playing backward.
“It’s a little bit different, kind of where the points of pressure are as opposed to a penalty kill. You want to try to get them on the run, down low, and be a little bit more under control in the box at the point,” Aston-Reese said in characteristic understated, yet insightful fashion. “Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like last year, we were scoring a lot more empty letters just from our own zone. I don’t know. Do we need to try to take more chances, especially if it’s a two-goal lead? Maybe try to ice it and take that risk and score a goal, you know?”
Mike Matheson laid it bare.
“So maybe we focused on that a little bit more through practice. So maybe our timing wasn’t there. Maybe our roles and responsibilities weren’t as clear, and maybe as players, we weren’t as adept to what those roles and responsibilities were. And so obviously, we got exposed, and that was unacceptable in the last game…”
But it’s true. The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost two points due to the extra-attacker foibles.