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The big, bad... Penguins? - 01-14-11

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

When the idea of physical play or fighting in the sport of hockey is brought up, most tradionally envision Terry O'Reilly's Big, Bad Bruins or Dave Schultz's Broad Street Bully Flyers.

How about Deryk Engelland's Punching Penguins?

(That was lame. Sorry.)

Somewhere along the line, the Penguins became the toughest team in Pennsylvania as well as the entire NHL, at least statistically. They are among the NHL's "elite" in virtually every penalty-related team statistic.

The evolution has been pretty quick actually. And you can theoretically track it back to an exact moment. Feb. 15, 2009. That's when Michel Therrien was fired as head coach and Dan Bylsma took over the team.

Here's a look how the Penguins' penalty numbers have evolved (or devolved depending on your perspective) since 2007-08, Therrien's last full season as the Penguins' coach:

2010-11

Total Rank
Minors 227 1st
Majors 42 3rd
Total penalties 276 1st
Total penalty minutes 726 2nd
Penalty minutes/game 16.1 1st
Times shorthanded 190 1st

2009-10

Total Rank
Minors 391 3rd
Majors 51 14th
Total penalties 456 6th
Total penalty minutes 1,137 6th
Penalty minutes/game 14.6 6th
Times shorthanded 327 5th

2008-09

Total Rank
Minors 397 11th
Majors 40 23rd
Total penalties 447 13th
Total penalty minutes 1,106 17th
Penalty minutes/game 13.6 18th
Times shorthanded 347 12th

2007-08

Total Rank
Minors 384 18th
Majors 51 10th
Total penalties 447 13th
Total penalty minutes 1,155 10th
Penalty minutes/game 14.4 8th
Times shorthanded 357 12th

With perhaps a slight hiccup during the change from Therrien to Bylsma, it's been a pretty direct change from a team primarily identified with finesse to one also associated with fighting. And as we saw during "24/7," the Penguins don't hide from that fact. Bylsma and company pride themselves in physical play.

That's all good and well, but is it becoming a problem? Leading the league in times shorthanded isn't exactly a good thing. Granted, when you have the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, the severity of that issue is lessened, but that's still a lot of time the Penguins have to spend playing defense for the most part. It's also lot of time their two best players - Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - are likely to ride the bench.

And while their penalty kill is obviously excellent, it's not dangerous the same way the Flyers' is with the scoring abilities of Mike Richards or Claude Giroux.

So we ask you, is the Penguins' fascination with toughness and potential lack of discipline a problem? Or is it nothing to worry about with a 27-14-4 record?

(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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