How does a player who spends the regular season going to the dirty areas, banging along the boards and posting in front of the net elevate his game for the playoffs?
He does it with more determination.
That’s Adam Payerl’s game plan as he prepares to play in his first AHL postseason this Saturday when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins travel to Binghamton for Game 1 against the Senators.
The 6-3, 216-pound Payerl has established himself as a rugged power forward during his rookie season with the Penguins. He consistently played a gritty game all regular season, and now he could play an even bigger role in the playoffs - a time when unsung heroes emerge.
And it’s usually those who spend the season grinding away on the bottom lines that find goal-scoring success in the playoffs.
“Goal scoring is a whole different ballgame in the playoffs,” said team leading scorer Chad Kolarik. “You’re not going to see a lot of the tic-tac-toe plays, the pretty goals. It’s going to be a lot of grind and go to the net hard.
“Guys that didn’t have a ton of goals during the year, but they’re going to be key parts in the playoffs.”
Such a scenario happens every year, Kolarik said, pointing to Washington’s Joel Ward as an example. When Ward played with Nashville two seasons ago, he tallied 10 goals in 80 regular season games, but went on to post seven goals in 12 playoff contests that year.
Payerl, who scored three goals in 44 regular season games, could be in store for similar postseason glory. He likes to mention another NHL player who went from bottom line grinder to playoff hero - Max Talbot, who scored two goals in Game 7 of the Finals to propel Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
“Guys like that end up winning games for their team in the playoffs,” Payerl said.
But what does a player whose style already includes playing in the dirty areas need to do differently to find playoff success? Well, Payerl already knows what his plan is.
“It’s just a matter of having more determination and will to put the puck in the net. You can get to the dirty areas, but it’s not the same when you go there and bear down that extra little bit to score goals in the playoffs,” Payerl said.
The Penguins enter the postseason with five players who scored at least 20 goals in the regular season (Chad Kolarik-31, Derek Nesbitt-26, Trevor Smith-23, Riley Holzapfel-21 and Paul Thompson-20). Binghamton had no 20 goal scorers in the regular season, so one would assume that offense would be a Penguin advantage.
Not so fast. Head coach John Hynes admitted this his team does have good depth on offense, but the goal stats from the regular season don’t mean as much in the playoffs.
“The most important thing isn’t about what happened in the regular season, but about playing your best hockey going into and through the playoffs,” Hynes said. “That’s our focus.”
“I don’t think anyone has an advantage in this series. Both teams have played well against each other and I expect it to be a great series,” he said.
Still, Nesbitt said there is a benefit to playing on a team with so many proven goal scorers. He spent the majority of the regular season with Peoria and was the only player to top the 20-goal mark.
“There’s not as much pressure to score as there is when you’re the only guy. Where I came from it was a little more pressure every night,” Nesbitt said. “Now, to be able to spread it around is a huge plus.”