It's not a combination you usually see on the score sheet.
P. Martin (1) - B. Orpik (1), S. Crosby (2)
Center Sidney Crosby gets plenty of assists but the Penguins' shutdown defensive pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are relied on to prevent goals, not generate them.
During the second period of last Tuesday's 5-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center, Orpik drove a slapshot from the left half wall at the net. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward made a save and deflected the puck behind the cage. The puck took a bounce off the end boards and deflected to the right faceoff circle where Martin was able to swat it with his backhand into the cage.
While the goal was hardly by design, it was a scoring play that might not have happened in the past.
This season, in hopes of creating more offense league-wide, the NHL began using new nets. While the goal mouth remains four-by-six feet, the depth of the nets are four inches shallower than their predecessors. In addition to allowing extra space between the cage and the boards, the newer nets have also opened up additional angles for pucks to hit off the end boards similar to the one Martin scored on.
"The angle it came out… it came out a little wider," Martin said. "Maybe that wouldn’t have been affected but it would have been close."
"They’re [the boards] are pretty bouncy here," Orpik said. "[Joe Louis Arena in Detroit] is obviously known for how bouncy theirs are. Some teams really use it. Even after the goal, we didn’t talk about it but it might be something to look at."
"There’s better angles and there’s less iron there that’s going to hit when the puck comes out," said head coach Dan Bylsma. "There are going to be pucks that get out more because of the less net there."
A more immediate concern for defenseman with regards to the extra space would be defending opponents behind behind their nets, especially with wraparound attempts. The new cages don't "bubble" out as much and offer a quicker, more direct route for attacking players to attempt wraparounds.
"If you’re chasing a guy and he’s using the net as a pick, or if you’re the net-front [defenseman], Orpik said. "You’ve just got to get your stick your stick to the post [the attacking forward] is trying to wraparound quicker."
For opposing teams, when they have the puck behind the net, there’s more room for them," Martin said. "They don’t have to put it outside the net to throw it right out front. I think that’s the biggest difference. Opposing players can wrap it easier or throw it out in front of the net without hitting the side. We as [defensemen] need to be a little bit more aware of."
Goaltenders may have the biggest adjustments to make with regards to wraparounds.
"It feels like it comes fast, especially with players like [Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal] with the long reach," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "You’ve got to be there quick."
In addition to wraparound attempts, skilled offensive players, such as Crosby or forward Evgeni Malkin, could take advantage of the extra space to set up teammates for scoring chances. During Tuesday's game, Crosby distributed a pass to Kunitz in the right circle. Kunitz put a shot on net which was initially stopped by Ward. Dupuis battled for the rebound and put it into the cage on a play which was initially ruled goal by on-ice officials but was overturned on a video review.
"I think there’s been a difference. I think there’s more room to make plays," Crosby said. "The angles are a bit better for making plays from there. I don’t know numbers-wise how much more it’s created because of that. I think it’s been a good adjustment in terms of being able to create things."
The Penguins fourth line appears to have benefited offensively due in part to the extra space. Center Joe Vitale, right winger Craig Adams and left winger Tanner Glass have combined for eight points thus far this season with several of their offensive chances being generated behind the cage.
During a 6-3 loss to the Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. Saturday, Adams scored his third goal of the season after Glass and Vitale moved it from behind the cage.
"As a line, our emphasis is offensive zone time and wearing the other team’s defense down," Vitale said. "When you do those things and you have more space, that’s going to help. If you look at the success we’ve had, especially around the net, I think you can’t help but notice there is a little bit more room and it does help you when you’re producing points."
Unlike the rule change instituting hybrid icing which has been met with significant disapproval from players, the new nets seem to be popular.
"I thought it was a good move," said center Brandon Sutter. "I think it has made a real difference and I can’t see why they would go back to the way it was before. It was a pretty smart move. "
"I like it. I think it’s good for the game," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "If they’re trying to get more offense, that’s good. It’s a little scary when a skilled player has the puck back there but it’s good for the game."
(Photo: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)