Finding balance between toughness, excessiveness key for Penguins’ Downie
Steve Downie has had no problems making friends — with his own team, anyway.
Many Penguins players are thrilled to have the physical forward on their side. He has been a solid locker-room presence, a capable and willing fighter and the agitating presence the Penguins have lacked recently.
But there also has been a downside. Downie, who leads the league in penalty minutes as well as minor penalties, has forced the Penguins to play short handed more than coach Mike Johnston would like.
“We definitely have to talk to ‘Downs’ about cutting down in that area, especially the minor penalties,” Johnston said.
With 79 penalty minutes entering Sunday’s games, Downie had 26 more than any other player. His 17 minor penalties lead Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf by two.
Downie is on pace for 341 penalty minutes and 73 minors for the season.
That would be the most minutes since Florida’s Peter Worrell had 354 in 2001-02 and the most minors since Rich Pilon of the New York Islanders received 73 in 1997-98.
Over his past eight games, Downie has played penalty-free once.
Protecting teammates and playing with an edge is one thing. But forcing the Penguins to kill such a large amount of penalties likely isn’t in the team’s best interest.
“If you’re engaging or there’s a fight or something like that, that’s different,” Johnston said. “But the minor penalties, we’ve got to cut down.”
Much was made of the Penguins signing Downie to a one-year, $1 million deal this offseason, in part because of his history of physical play against Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
That and his ability to be tough, annoying and hard to play against, something he did plenty of against the Penguins while in Philadelphia.
Even the mix with the coaches was right. Downie rejoined Rick Tocchet, whom he played for in Tampa Bay.
Brandon Sutter appreciates Downie’s game perhaps better than most. They have spent the bulk of the season as the center and right wing on the Penguins’ third line.
Sutter understands the line Downie must walk and said he believes it’s the team’s job to pick him up if he happens to cross it.
“He’s an energy guy,” Sutter said. “He’s going to take penalties doing that. But I think you need someone like that on your team. It’s our responsibility to kill those off.”
Downie took a costly penalty during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders when he drilled Thomas Hickey after losing his stick at the opposing blue line.
Hickey wasn’t a threat to score, and any misdeed toward a Penguins player wasn’t easily perceptible.
Not only did Downie get two minutes for interference, but he also was given a 10-minute misconduct. Brock Nelson scored on the power play 46 seconds later to effectively push the game out of reach.
Downie finished the game with 17 penalty minutes, the third time this year he reached double-digits.
“By no means does he like sitting in the box,” Sutter said. “He’s a competitive guy. He wants to be out there. He’s a physical presence, and he’s going to take penalties. That’s just the way it is, the nature of the game. We need that edge from him, that mentality from him.”