Penguins digging deep
By Keith Barnes
Thursday, February 8, 2007
When the Penguins practice, Sidney Crosby is usually the first player on the ice and the last to leave.
So, it somewhat surprising Wednesday when the first two players to hit the ice were Dominic Moore and Ronald Petrovicky.
"We just got lucky to be the first couple of guys out there," Petrovicky said. "Sid's got a passion for hockey, and you can see it all the time, and he's a prime example of a hockey player that's doing the right thing every time."
It wasn't the first time Crosby yielded ice time to Petrovicky, Moore and their linemate, Jarkko Ruutu. They've been taking an average of 13 shifts and nearly 10 minutes a game away from the top three lines during the Penguins' 9-0-2 streak that has them residing in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
And the league's leading scorer doesn't mind a bit.
"They've been playing great," said Crosby, who has a league-high 86 points. "They've been playing physical and chipping in, and we need everyone."
It may not seem like much, but with a backloaded schedule that has the Penguins playing 29 games in the next 59 days, including 17 games in March, the players will take every break they can get.
"You just stay fresh as a team, they feel a part of it, and it's a big thing," Penguins forward Mark Recchi said. "Last year, going to Carolina (during the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup run) we had a very effective fourth line that we could throw out there anytime to do a job and play with energy, a little fire in their bellies and make it hard for the other team."
Unlike the many teams that limit playing time for the fourth line, the Penguins roll theirs out as part of their normal rotation. Only power plays and penalty kills interrupt the cycle and keep the fourth-liners planted on the bench for any length of time.
Even late in games, when many coaches think of shortening their bench and reducing play to three or two lines, the Penguins remain faithful to their four-line philosophy.
"There's a lot of hockey to be played, and those guys deserve to be on the ice as well," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "Our goal is to go with six defensemen and four lines with everyone involved, because we know that we're going to need everyone if we want to make the playoffs."
Playing the fourth line certainly proved beneficial Saturday. Stuck in a scoreless game with Washington, Petrovicky broke down the right wing side into the Capitals' zone, hesitated, then beat goaltender Olaf Kolzig for the winning goal in a 2-0 decision.
"Every time you score a goal and your hockey team wins, you feel good," Petrovicky said. "(Tuesday) we had a few chances to score, but we didn't, and we'll just keep working hard and hopefully we'll keep doing the same thing."
Scoring from a fourth line is generally considered a bonus, but the Penguins have been reaping consistent benefits of late. Over the past 11 games, the checking line has notched six goals, 12 points, one game-winning goal and an even plus-minus rating.
"I think when you look at successful teams, you can't have two lines or three lines going, because, in the end, in the playoffs, you need everybody," Ruutu said. "You have to trust everybody ... and I think there's a lot of advantages, because you're way less tired and you're fresher toward the end of the game."
More important, the Penguins may be fresher at the end of the season as they try to secure their first postseason berth in six years.
"Not that you want to save anything; you don't," Crosby said. "But you have to make sure that you're taking the time when you can to rest, and playing four lines is a big part of it."