Niskanen: 'This time of year, those fancy plays just aren’t there' - 04-21-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


With a handful of Art Ross Trophy titles, it's not surprising the Penguins' power play was the NHL's best during the regular season at 23.4 percent.

While the power play has operated at a healthy clip of 27.3 percent all of two games this preseason, it has failed to score key goals at key moments, primarily in the latter stages of Saturday's Game 2, a 4-3 loss in two overtimes to the Blue Jackets. Even worse, the Penguins have surrendered two shorthanded goals to the Blue Jackets, including one by forward Matt Calvert which shifted momentum early in the second period of Saturday's loss.

The team's inconsistency and penchant for allowing short-handed scores prompted Dan Bylsma to shift to a unit during Saturday's game which featured two defensemen and three forwards. Throughout the regular season, when injuries didn't have an overwhelming impact on personnel, the team primarily used four forwards and one defensemen.

Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin were the two blue liners used with the three forward/two defenseman setup the team displayed at today's morning skate (above, with a camera man working the halfwall) at Nationwide Arena. In addition to leading the team in scoring with four points, he has led all Penguins defensemen in power-play time on ice with 5:54 per game.

Following today's morning skate, he talked about what the team needs to do different with the man advantage.

Given Columbus' success with scoring short-handed, how necessary is it to use two defensemen on the power play?

"The way things have gone, it might be a smart move. They’ve obviously have shown they’re looking for offense. They intercept passes, pressure. Even their defensemen are looking for opportunities. The way the last two games have gone, it might be better to have two defensemen."

What is key for you and Martin?

Just be responsible. You want to create momentum. You want to be aggressive. You want to do the things that make our power play good but you just got to be responsible. If there’s a breakdown - it’s going to happen, they’re going to deflect a puck, they’re going to look to go look for on opportunity – we have to be in a position where we’re able to go back and everybody has to go back. Have that mentality that we’re not going to give up momentum.

What's key for this team to have success?

"It should look a lot like our first period the other night. We were really good. That was about the best we played in a long time. We managed the puck really, really well. When we had space, when we had a play to make, we made it. We moved the puck up the ice. We had pressure. We had guys around the net a lot. Our guys backtracked a lot. Our [defensemen] had good gaps and we didn’t give them any space. Those are the things we try to do and we need to do it with more consistency."

Have the Blue Jackets done unique with their penalty kill?

"They’re not doing anything different than what most teams do. If you look at what I’d say 90 percent of the penalty kills in the league do, they’re not doing anything different. I’d say some of [their] chances are self inflicted. We’re looking to make a pretty play they’re almost sitting on it waiting for it. Just a little simpler mindset when we have the puck. A little bit more of shoot-and-recover pucks, a little more of that mentality. That takes away from their mentality."

How much of a balance is there with being selective with a shot versus just firing it at the net hoping for a goal, a tip or a rebound?

"You don’t want to just shoot everything for the sake of shooting. You don’t want to shoot from bad areas on the ice. We all know the areas we want to shoot out but they might not like to get there. I think the best way to describe it is you want to support the puck first, get everybody with a little bit of motion and then we have people going to the net at the same time the puck is going there. Really, you try to create an organized chaos situation around the net where we’re outnumbering them. Even early in a power play, if you just pound one, it might not be the best shot. You might not score on that one but it set things up and gets their box moving. This time of year, those fancy plays just aren’t there. Once in a while they are but it’s usually after a shot and their box has move and they’re in scramble mode. A little bit of a simpler mentality."

(Photo: Seth Rorabaugh/Post-Gazette)

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