“Shoot! Shoooot! Shooooooot!”
Those are the cat calls Penguin players have heard from Penguin fans for eons. And, okay, from media members as well (I’m guilty as charged).
No doubt. Of all the teams in the National Hockey League, the Pittsburgh Penguins may be the most notorious when it comes to over-thinking and over-passing instead of just shooting the puck on net.
With all of the skill the Penguins have possessed over the years, one complaint backers of the Pens have had is that they simply don’t get the puck on net enough.
From Sergei Zubov, to Jan Hrdina, to Alex Goligoski, to Kip Miller, to Jaromir Jagr, to Mario Lemieux, to Dick Tarnstrom, to Sidney Crosby, to Milan Kraft, to Evgeni Malkin, to Sergei Gonchar…any skilled Penguin who has ever played at Mellon Arena has been booed at some point in their career for passing or stick handling instead of shooting.
On the power play. At even strength. On the PK. At the bubble hockey tables on the main concourse…If you play hockey at Mellon arena, you will criticized for not shooting enough.
Frankly, more often times than not, the fans and the media types have been right on this one. Players, coaches, and management types actually agree quite a bit. The protests of players holding onto the puck persist in all corners of Pittsburgh. This act of hockey heresy turns into wasted possessions, failed power plays, and empty trips down the ice.
So imagine how Penguin fans felt when they actually heard Penguin coach Dan Bylsma suggest it was a good idea as to shoot…LESS?!
Yeah, that’s right, the Penguins’ coach is actually endorsing the idea of his players holding onto the puck MORE often heading into his clubs’ series against Montreal starting Friday night at Mellon Arena.
“I think we are going to try to employ a different approach to scoring goals than what Washington did,” said Bylsma. Those comments came in the wake of Washington’s seven game opening series loss to the Canadiens. It was a series in which Montreal super-goalie Jaroslav Halak stopped 131 of the last 134 shots he faced.
“We are not going to be focused on trying to score on every shot. If we have a great chance to try to score we are going to take it. But we are not going to be focused on trying to score on every shot. We are going to be focused on trying to get pucks there (in front of Halak) and get pucks in behind their defense and take care of business with our net front presence.”
Obviously, that’s assuming the Penguins actually have some net front presence to speak of. Something that was lacking big-time in the Ottawa series until the club was down 3-0 in Game 6. Sure Pascal LeClaire had made about 95 saves in about eight periods of play since replacing Brian Elliott in that best of seven.
But it felt like 45 of them turned into rebounds that were spilled out in front of the crease. Often times though the Penguins didn’t cash in on those second chance opportunities. Or, more often, the right guy (or any guy) wasn’t in front of the net to score at all.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, are you reading this?
But now Dan Bylsma is calling for those chances to be cashed in based on the quality of shots, as opposed to the volume of shots on Halak.
The Capitals were widely criticized for simply winding up and shooting from 30+ feet out in hopes of beating Halak with wild, frequent slap shots.
Alexander Ovechkin, are you reading this?
That’s what Bylsma is arguing against. He’d prefer shots on net that are set up and are with more purpose because a red hot Halak is more apt to soak up those slappers into his C/H emblem than guys such as LeClaire and Elliott did in Ottawa.
Pens forward Max Talbot had an interesting suggestion: “There’s something, and it has a specific name. It’s called P.O.P… or pass off pads, ” Talbot said.
“It’s something when you can’t shoot to score, you shoot low for rebounds. And we are going to have people on net.”
Well, let’s hope Max is right.
Now then, all that said Gonchar, Kris Letang, and Crosby all stayed after practice Thursday working on the power play. And one thing they were were working on appeared to be getting Letang loose for a one timer on the off side of the ice.
“They block a lot of shots,” said Letang of the Canadiens, “So I have to keep my head up and make sure I shoot through the net. Or maybe I see a guy open at the side of the net.”
Personally I prefer Letang stick with the first part of the logic as opposed to the latter. My stance is (no offense to Bylsma) I grasp the coaching intuition Bylsma has shown so many times in such a brief amount of time of the ice. In fact, I even see the thread in his logic based on what we all saw in the Washington/Montreal series in the first place.
But for decades I’ve been watching Penguin players pass up shots for extra passes, or fancy plays, or intentionally banging slappers off pads while hoping for rebounds in vain.
And (barring both Kevin Stevens and Rick Tocchet coming out of retirement) I’ve yet to see evidence that shooting less is a good idea.
Bylsma’s judgment seems to be grounded in logic. But let’s see if his players actually cry out his message effectively against the Habs.