It’s not the kind of scoring chance the Carolina Hurricanes track, assistant coach Steve Smith says.
Nor is it one that is particularly encouraged, even though the result can be a game-changer of a goal.
For the Canes, shorthanded chances are more the product of happenstance than design or planning. Even on the league’s top penalty-killing team, with P.K. units that are active and have speedy, skilled players, the focus simply is on effectively executing the kill.
The Canes have five shorthanded goals this season, tied for third in the NHL through Wednesday’s games. Their shorthanded chances have been numerous.
“But it’s a bonus,” Smith, who handles the Canes’ penalty-kill units, said Thursday. “I’ve always thought that penalty killers are put out there to kill penalties, to deny the other team chances. If we happen to get a goal, that’s an added bonus.
“The foundation of our penalty killing is pressure. If a player on the other team falls asleep for a split second, with the kind of speed we have … ”
It has been a common sight this season – Jordan Staal racing down ice with the puck shorthanded, or Viktor Stalberg, Derek Ryan or Joakim Nordstrom carrying the puck into the other team’s zone. All have shorthanded goals this season, as does defenseman Ron Hainsey.
“We’re aggressive, and we try to force them into mistakes,” Stalberg said. “Putting pressure on them, making them force plays, you can get a bounce or something. When we have the chance to go, we have the mentality it’s a good chance, but we’re not jeopardizing anything in order to get a scoring chance.”
The Canes have 40 shorthanded shots on goal in the 41 games they’ve had penalties – Carolina leads the NHL in fewest penalty minutes per game (6). They’ve have at least one shorthanded shot in 25 games, with a season-high four against St. Louis on Jan. 5.
Against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 23 at PNC Arena, the Bruins led 2-0 and had a power play midway through the second period. But Staal knocked the puck away near the blue line and was off on a breakaway, scoring on goalie Anton Khudobin as the Canes went on to a 3-2 overtime win.
“You have to take a lot of pride in defending on P.K.,” Staal said. “That being said, sometimes the ice is bad and pucks bobble and there’s opportunities and you take ’em. But I wouldn’t say you’re out looking for them at all.”
Staal’s score against the Bruins was his 15th career shorthanded goal, so he’s doing something right.
“I don’t think there’s a knack to it,” Staal said. “There is a little bit of reading the game well and understanding when you can go. It’s more trying to take the puck away from them and if you do that quick enough, you might get an opportunity to get it down the ice.”
The next time the Canes played the Bruins, Jan. 8 at PNC Arena, Staal experienced a rarity – back-to-back breakaways shorthanded. Zane McIntyre, then the Bruins goalie, twice stopped Staal, but the chances revved up the crowd, and the Canes again won in overtime 4-3.
“That was a first and that was funny,” Staal said, smiling. “I don’t know it will ever happen again, really. I actually think I had a better opportunity the second time.”
Added a laughing Smith, “By the time he got back to the bench he didn’t have a breath left. It’s a good thing he didn’t get a third.”
In two of the past four games, the Canes have denied the Columbus Blue Jackets – No. 1 in the NHL on the power play – on all eight power plays. On Friday, it will be the Pittsburgh Penguins, ranked third on the power play, facing Carolina.
“It’s probably the highest level of talent of any of the power plays we’ll come up against,” Smith said of the Pens. “Columbus obviously has had very good structure and done very well, but as far as ability and talent and going man by man, Pittsburgh has the highest level.”
Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh