The fact that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lead the AHL with 357 penalty minutes isn’t too concerning to head coach John Hynes.
After all, the Penguins 25 fighting majors obviously padded that total.
What bothers Hynes is when his team takes soft penalties - hooking, slashing and holding, and the resulting inability of late to kill them.
That’s a big reason why the Penguins have lost their last three games as the penalty kill was forced onto the ice a total of 18 times. In the last two games alone the penalty kill allowed opponents to score four goals on 14 power plays, and in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Syracuse the first six man advantages of the night went to the Falcons.
“We’ve taken penalties at bad times and we put our penalty kill in situations where you over-extend or over-use,” Hynes said after Tuesday’s practice at Coal Street. “The calls were correct. We took those penalties. When it gets to that point we have to do a better job of taking personal responsibility.”
In Sunday’s game, nine Penguin players took penalties and seven had more than two minutes. Springfield went on to score twice on eight power plays to jump out to a 2-0 first period lead.
“We have to be more disciplined and understand if we’re taking a parade to the penalty box we better stop because it’s not the referees. It’s us,” Hynes said.
The Penguins worked extensively on special teams during Tuesday’s practice and were very willing to heed Hynes’ advice to be more disciplined.
Winger Harry Zolnierczyk said it doesn’t matter if the calls being made are correct or not. What matters, he said, is special teams battles win games.
“We’re falling short on that right now and we have to do a better job,” Zolnierczyk said. “It’s individual effort - clears, blocking shots.”
Zolnierczyk said minor penalties have been the Penguins undoing of late - allowing teams such as Springfield to jump out to multi-goal leads and making the chance for a comeback extremely difficult.
Not only can the Penguins do a better job killing penalties, he said, but they can also improve on staying out of the box in the first place.
That means not being so quick to retaliate to a slash or a shove.
“Get him back at the right time. It’s about taking a deep breath, relax and put the onus on ourselves to stay out of the box,” Zolnierczyk said. “That’s what is going to separate the great teams from mediocre teams.”
The Penguins have plenty of physical players - such as Zolnierczyk, who are experts at agitating opponents and goading them into penalties. They are tough to play against, but not when they’re the players going to the box, Hynes said.
“Part of being a tough player to play against is you have to take hits to make plays, take a punch to draw a call,” he said. “The retaliatory penalties, that’s not tough.”
- F Andrew Ebbett watched one of his former teammates enter the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. Former defenseman Scott Niedermayer was inducted with the Class of 2013, and he was Ebbett’s teammate on the Anaheim Ducks for the 2008-09 season. “One of the nicest guys in the game, the best captain I’ve played with and one of the best players, for sure,” Ebbett said. “He came to work everyday and he was so smooth and so fun to watch out there. Always cool. I don’t think he ever felt the pressure and he pretty much won everything you can win.”
For all his accomplishments, Niedermayer always remained down to earth, Ebbett said. “You go out for dinner with him and it doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a veteran, you’re one of his buddies,” Ebbett said. “When I’m done playing, it will be special to tell my kids and grandchildren that I shared the dressing room and got to be on the same ice as him.”
- Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond didn’t practice on Tuesday and is considered day-to-day. Hynes said it’s nothing serious and Leblond is expected to rejoin the team in practice this week.
- Sunday’s game was the first for rookie forward Anton Zlobin, who had been sidelined with a shoulder injury. Hynes described the Russian winger as a pure goal scorer who can pick corners. Still, Zlobin is still working back into game shape and could head to Wheeling to get some action. “It’s still up in the air. A lot of it depends where we’re at tomorrow, health-wise,” Hynes said. “Now that he’s game ready, it’s important for him to play. If we don’t feel right off the bat we’re going to play him in situations, it might be a good idea to go to Wheeling and get his game going.”