Penguins Need To Stay Strong On Power Play

March 30, 2019

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — As much as Jean-Sebastien Dea’s two goals made for a nice homecoming Sunday, the Penguins would like to keep him and the Springfield Thunderbirds off the board tonight.

Especially their penalty-kill units, which are peaking at the most important time.

While the longtime Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward had two power-play goals a few days ago, the Penguins haven’t been as charitable to the opposition. They’ve allowed only five power-play goals in 36 opportunities over their last nine games.

With the Thunderbirds carrying the league’s best power-play percentage (25.0) into tonight’s clash, the group will strive for similar success as they hope to bite into their three-point playoff deficit.

“Everyone’s just taking pride in their job and making sure we’re giving it our all,” Jarrett Burton said. “Making sure we’re blocking shots at all points, so I think it’s just a determination to make sure we’re doing well on the PK. There’s just so many good power plays in this league that you can win or lose games on special teams.”

Earlier this season, the Penguins floundered among the league’s worst penalty-killing teams with a percentage in the low 70s. However, coaches Clark Donatelli and J.D. Forrest made some adjustments in terms of schematics and personnel that helped the units rebound.

Through Friday, their success rate rose to 80.8 percent. That ranks only 19th in the AHL, but it puts the Penguins a lot closer to the league average than they previously had.

“I think our one-touches are there,” Donatelli said. “Guys are looking at a lot of film, they’re blocking more shots. They’re in sync; that’s a big thing. J.D. does a great job giving them all the information, so there are no surprises during the game.”

Another undeniable factor has been the play of goaltender Tristan Jarry, who entered the week with a .931 save percentage over his last 13 games before recording a 22-save shutout against Providence. His puckhandling ability is an added bonus, as he can make clears near the net.

While all kills are important, their significance can be magnified during a chase for the playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Penguins nursed a one-goal lead over the Bruins in a near must-win. They were shorthanded twice in the middle frame, and a Providence goal would have changed the game’s complexion.

Instead, the Penguins got some big saves from Jarry and executed a good number of effort plays, like defenseman Kevin Czuczman blocking a shot and then diving to knock the puck away from the net front.

Overall discipline, combined with those galvanizing sequences, can go a long way the last couple weeks.

“We just try to make sure we limit how many penalties we take, and it keeps our penalty killers a little bit fresher and making sure that we’re getting it done,” Burton said.

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Opponent: Springfield Thunderbirds

When: 7:05 p.m. tonight

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena

Last meeting: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won, 3-2, on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

About the Thunderbirds: Springfield is still technically alive in the playoff chase at 28-27-8-5, but any kind of loss would essentially eliminate the team from contention. Jean-Sebastien Dea has been red hot since joining the team, scoring two goals on Sunday and eight overall in 12 contests. The T-birds have been hit hard from a goaltending perspective, with all-star participant Samuel Montembeault playing for the Florida Panthers and Michael Hutchinson going to the Toronto organization earlier in the season. However, Chris Driedger has played well of late with four wins in his last seven starts.

Opponent: Bridgeport Sound Tigers

When: 10:30 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Webster Bank Arena

Last meeting: Bridgeport won, 2-1, on Feb. 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

About the Sound Tigers: Bridgeport enters comfortably in second place in the Atlantic Division at 39-21-6-2. After a slow start and long goal drought earlier in the season, former Hershey bear Chris Bourque has rebounded to lead the team with 51 points (15G-36A). The team had the division’s worst power play through Thursday at 16.3 percent, which bodes well for a Penguins team that’s cleaned up the penalty kill. This is Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s final morning game of three this season; they won the last one over the Sound Tigers on Jan. 23.