Simpler-is-better approach by Penguins coaches boosts team
A season can’t be measured in 10 games, but some of the Penguins insist something is different about this team.
The difference, they insist, can be attributed to their new coaching staff.
Coach Mike Johnston and his assistants have worked hard to rid the Penguins of “bad habits,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
A 7-2-1 start — the Penguins had the league’s top power play, most goals per game and best goal differential (plus-19) through Saturday — is evidence bad habits might be eroding.
Scuderi said last season following a loss in Edmonton the Penguins were playing like the Harlem Globetrotters. His tune is different now.
“I think the coaches have played a big role in that,” Scuderi said. “It’s no secret that we’ve been burned in the past by playing the wrong way. It’s been a focus of all the guys in this room. We definitely talk about it a lot. If you don’t have a play with the puck, then make a safe play.”
The simpler-is-better approach hasn’t always been easy for the Penguins. They blew leads in losses to Dallas and Detroit during the opening month and struggled against the Flyers.
However, they concluded the month on a four-game winning streak. Three of those victories resulted in shutouts for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as the Penguins outscored their opponents 19-3 during that stretch.
A more responsible brand of hockey was evident.
“Look at our power play,” said right wing Craig Adams, commenting on the unit that is clicking at nearly 42 percent.
“They’re not just scoring, but they’re doing all the right things now. It’s nice to see. Obviously when we get a chance, we have guys who can bury the puck.”
The Penguins’ latest victim also noticed a change in their approach.
Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber shook his head when discussing the Penguins’ power play. But he wasn’t just acknowledging the unit’s talent, even if it does showcase some of the league’s most gifted players.
Rather, Weber was blown away by the Penguins’ efficiency and willingness to stick with a simple game plan.
“We knew they had the best power play in the league, and obviously their personnel is where it’s at,” Weber said. “But look at what they’re doing. They’re doing all the simple things. They’re moving the puck down low. If they don’t have a play, they move the puck up high. Then it’s pass, pass, shoot. They keep it so simple. Maybe we should look at what they’re doing. That’s a good team, a consistent team. We need to find a way to be like them.”
A wake-up call in Detroit on Oct. 23 — they blew a two-goal lead late in the third period, the second time they blew a late lead — seemed to trigger something in the Penguins, who responded two nights later in Nashville.
Since that loss to Detroit, the Penguins have allowed three goals in four games.
Credit the coaching staff, the players said.
“They’ve taught me a lot already,” defenseman Simon Despres said. “They’ve taught us all so much. They’ve taught us how to play with a lead and to play the game the right way.”