It's no secret that the hallmark of the Pittsburgh Penguins has long been offensive dynamos. Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined to win thirteen of the last eighteen scoring titles, and Crosby's currently leading the NHL in points to try and make it 14 for 19. Despite the super-stars, the Pittsburgh Penguins might be known for something else soon too.
That's right, quietly the Pens' pluggers have become a very servicable unit. In 2007-08, Pittsburgh ranked just 23rd in the league in penalty killing proficiency. Since then, they've improved to finish 8th and 9th respectively in the past two seasons and are currently, brace yourself, first in the entire league so far this season with an impressive 90.5% PK percentage. Currently, the Pens have killed off an amazing 32 straight penalties, a streak dating back to November 12th when NHL leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos beat Marc-Andre Fleury while Tampa had a 5 on 3 man advantage.
And they're doing it all without their Selke nominated forward, Jordan Staal, who's been sidelined with injuries all season. So how is this getting done?
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The best penalty killer has to be the goalie, as the old saying goes, and Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson have had alternating stretches of brilliance this season, which helps the overall kill rate. Defensively Brooks Orpik (3:44) leads all skaters in short-handed minutes per game, followed closely by Zbynek Michalek (3:23). Fellow newcomer Paul Martin (2:53) and emerging stud Kris Letang (2:12) round out the normal rotation, though the Pens are not afraid to use any defenseman in the lineup out there.
But, in what's been the best pleasant surprise of the season, the forwards have been stellar even without Staal. Maxime Talbot, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis all have averaged at least 2:45 short-handed per game and have formed the backbone of the PK. Cooke also has two short-handed goals, Talbot and Adams have each chipped in a goal a piece too. They've shown an aggressive mentality- when these players get the puck, they're not just looking to chip it out of the defensive zone, they're racing up the ice themselves to take advantage of an opposing power play unit that is thinking all offense.
In fact, add on Crosby's SH goal, and amazingly the Pens are nearly doing as good of a job scoring goals a man down (5) as they are giving them up (just 10 goals surrendered in 26 games).
Not bad for the team known for being a traditionally free-wheeling squad that could produce an Art Ross trophy winners but wasn't adept at playing defense. The Pens grunts are proving they can be just as capable as the superstars that the Penguins are known for.