Archive

ShareThis Page
New assistant Agnew has Pens’ PK, defense among league’s best | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

New assistant Agnew has Pens’ PK, defense among league’s best

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, November 20, 2014 11:15 p.m.
ptrpens02111114
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin plays against the Kings Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

New Penguins coach Mike Johnston is receiving plenty of attention these days for leading the team to a 13-3-1 record. Rick Tocchet, a high-profile assistant and mastermind of the NHL’s top power play, is enjoying supreme popularity, too.

Riding under the radar is another assistant who, according to the Penguins, deserves plenty of credit for their eye-popping start.

Gary Agnew might have been saddled with the toughest job of all.

The longtime assistant works with the penalty-killing unit and the team’s defensemen. Players in these respective units were fiercely loyal to former assistant coaches Tony Granato (penalty kill) and Todd Rierden (defensemen).

“It probably wasn’t real easy at first for Gary,” defenseman Paul Martin said, specifically noting the penalty killers, who enjoyed annual success under Granato.

“It can be a hard thing. There has been some compromise in that maybe he brings something to the table that can be effective, (but) there are some things that we won’t like as a killing unit. Some things we didn’t think were beneficial for the way we play or the personnel that we have. With the guys we have, we’ve come to an understanding, an agreement.”

The compromise is working.

After a bad first week, the Penguins’ penalty killing has been superb. The unit ranks fourth in the NHL with an 88.4 percent kill rate. Since Oct. 18, the Penguins have killed 52 of 54 penalties.

The defense has been solid overall. It has permitted just 35 goals, the fewest amount of goals allowed in the NHL.

While many are quick to credit goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with this statistic — his numbers speak for themselves — others believe Agnew deserves some of the credit.

Agnew is a disciple of St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, whose specialty long has been a suffocating defense.

After being fired from St. Louis’ staff last spring — the Blues were considered among the favorites to land the Stanley Cup before falling to Chicago in the first round of the playoffs — Agnew found another job with the Penguins and brought his defensive philosophies, which finally are being accepted.

The philosophy of the penalty kill is different now more than the system.

“There’s less aggression from us,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We’re more patient. There is less running around for the forwards. We’re willing to let teams set up.”

So far, so good.

“Gary’s been really good,” Sutter said. “He’s such a fun guy to be around. He keeps us loose.”

Agnew is all business about his defensive beliefs, though.

“When it comes to his system and his way of playing, he’s pretty cut and dry,” Sutter said. “He knows this system.”

Agnew said his new team has been a delight to deal with and if there was resistance to learning his way of penalty killing and playing defense, it hasn’t been a problem.

“It’s not that things are that different from last year,” Agnew said. “It’s just a commitment to playing on the right side of the puck and on the right side of the man.”

Agnew said his players are getting better defensively because they practice against the NHL’s top power play daily.

“But he deserves some credit,” center Zach Sill said. “He’s just a really good hockey coach.”

All seven defensemen on the Penguins’ roster have played well, forcing Robert Bortuzzo into the press box even though he’s been a strong presence in his first six games. Agnew likes what he’s seeing from his blue line and his penalty killers.

“It’s just a great group,” he said. “You’ve got experienced guys like (Rob) Scuderi and Martin. Great talent like (Kris) Letang and (Olli) Maatta. And I still think we can get even better.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.