PK OK 11/29
Anyway, Adirondack Phantoms coach Terry Murray spent time after practice talking about the team's penalty kill. Somewhat strange timing there because of the way Wednesday's game played out - the IceCaps scored two power-play goals in 10 seconds and won - but it has been playing well.
Even with those two goals against, it still checks in at 85.6 percent. That's eighth in the AHL. The system relies on forwards making the right reads, which they've done by and large to date.
“Our philosophy is putting a lot of pressure on the puck,” Murray said. “Again, it starts down ice with the idea that you want to have your (first forward) serpentine and pressuring the puck as he comes back through to his own d-zone. If the puck gets by him, then that (second forward) has to respond and take his place."
Once the Phantoms get into the defensive zone, the forwards and defensemen adapt to where the puck is. Their No.1 priority, though, is taking away the defenseman-to-defenseman passing lane across the blue line. If they don't, that's when their opponents can really start to do some damage.
"Anytime they make a d-to-d pass now, it opens up the ice," Murray said. "It opens up shooting lanes and a lot of traffic to the net can make it very hard on the goaltender. We try to limit that. We try to contain it to the one side of the ice and we want to pressure down hard on that half-board man right down to the goal line and hand it off to the d. He takes over and if you have that kind of read happening consistently, it’s easy for the guys off the back side to make their reads and adjustments.”
The IceCaps' first power play goal, Paul Postma's one-timer, was off a pass from Alex Burmistrov, who was circling back to where a defender would ordinarily be. But there were bodies in front of Adirondack goaltender Scott Munroe and he likely never saw it before it clanked in off the pipe.
You've probably noticed that Murray doesn't like to use Sean Couturier and Schenn on the first shift of a penalty kill. You might think that's strange, given the huge penalty killing role Couturier played in Philadelphia last season, but Murray told reporters there's a reason for it.
“I do that intentionally because I want to come back with them right after the penalty kill is over with five-on-five play," Murray said. "I start off with the first group, I’ve got Schenner and Coots out for the next group and then one more time. Hopefully the penalty is over and now we can come right back with our top two lines five-on-five. Literally, I want them: pressure, in the zone, clear, get off the ice. If that takes 20 seconds or that takes 30 seconds, that’s when I want them to change."
The power play is an entirely different animal. It's very rare -- almost unheard of -- to see the Phantoms start a power play without the No. 1 unit of Schenn, Couturier, Jason Akeson, Tye McGinn and Erik Gustafsson. On the penalty kill, though, Murray also has defensive center Rob Bordson and two-way player Ben Holmstrom who have been responsible on the first shift, which allows Murray to stick with his plan of sending Couturier and Schenn out next and keeping them fresh for five-on-five.
"You have to have a first group that goes out to do a very responsible job or otherwise you’re coming and leading with Schenn and with Couturier," Murray said. "We have a lot of confidence in what Bordson and Holmstrom do. They’re veteran players in a sense. Being kids, they’re still veterans. They really buy into that. That’s one of their roles – is to be real good players without the puck. It makes it easy, then, for that decision to be made.”
Having the right people making the right reads is only a part of the equation, Murray said.
“There are a whole lot of things that come into penalty killing,” he said. “You need good people. You need character. You need guys that want to work hard – sacrifice their bodies blocking shots – play heavy and hard and the right time. The hockey awareness that our group has is very good. You have to have the reads up ice. You want to be able to continue with your speed and put pressure on the puck at all times as we come back through the middle of the ice. You would like to force some dump-ins where you can now dig in and battle hard and don’t get into outnumbered situations. I think overall the players have really committed to it."
That's a lot of PK talk. Moving on.
Tye McGinn was banged up, so he got a maintenance day. He is expected to be back for Binghamton, but Eric Wellwood took his place on a line with Schenn and Shane Harper. Mike Testwuide skated with Tyler Brown and Garrett Roe. It will be interesting to see if those hold up if McGinn returns or if Murray will drop Wellwood back to the fourth and sit Testwuide. We'll find out tomorrow, I suppose.
The story I wrote for tomorrow's paper focuses on how well the Phantoms have been able to bounce back from losses recently. They are 4-1 in their past five games immediately following a loss.
This season, they're 3-0 following consecutive losses. They've been good at avoiding lengthy slumps.
Scott Munroe summed up the stat pretty well: "I would like to have not so many losses, that way there wasn't that kind of stat, but I think it's a good sign when you bounce back."
More on that in the paper. I'll be back before the game with the lines and links, as always.
Until next time,