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Grover's Notes

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Bob Grove's Penguins Notebook

Getting Settled
The Penguins’ first 10 games at Consol Energy Center were nothing to write home about – stylistically or statistically.
Thanks in part to third-period meltdowns against Montreal, Boston and the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh stood an unimpressive 4-5-1 after 10 games across the street from Mellon Arena, where the Penguins earned points in eight of their last 10 regular-season games (7-2-1).
As it turns out, however, firing up the home cooking in a new building isn’t automatic. Of the NHL’s other 29 teams, only 11 played above .500 in the first 10 games in their current buildings. Those numbers certainly are weighed down by the number of expansion teams which debuted in new arenas, but plenty of established franchises couldn’t get above .500, either, including Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Washington, Dallas and Phoenix.
The Penguins’ poor home start certainly couldn’t be blamed on the new ice surface, which should be superior to what the team had nightly at Mellon Arena but is still a work in progress. While the Consol Energy Center has state-of-the-art ice-making capability, the crew there has been dealing with several mitigating circumstances. The new building has more events, which doesn’t help the ice, and the design of the concourses brings a different circulation of air, one of the realities NHL ice guru Dan Craig was helping the team manage when he visited last month.
The Face of Face-Offs
It’s no longer news that Sidney Crosby is one of the best faceoff men in the league. After winning just 45.5 percent of his draws as a rookie, Crosby stood at 51.5 percent for his career as the current season hit the quarter pole – a six-point improvement that is no small achievement.
Of course, Crosby helped himself by making that improvement a point of personal focus back then, but he’s also had plenty of practice. Crosby led the NHL in faceoffs taken last season (1,791), and with Jordan Staal injured he was on pace to take more than 1,900 draws this season.
Crosby’s ascension to one of the league’s premier faceoff men has had a few memorable events, including his 21-3 performance early last season against Philadelphia and his 25-7 night against the New York Rangers last month. That’s the most draws won by a Pittsburgh player in one game since the NHL began tracking that statistic 13 years ago, breaking Jan Hrdina’s previous mark of 22 set eight years earlier.
Penalty Shot Potpourri
As everyone knows, there is room in the NHL rule book for interpretation. And nowhere has that been more evident this season than in the awarding of penalty shots.
Rule 24.8 sets out the four specific conditions that must be met for a referee to award a penalty shot: the foul must have taken place in the neutral zone or the puck-carrier’s attacking zone; the infraction must have been committed from behind; the player with the puck “must have been denied a reasonable chance to score”; and the player in possession of the puck “must have had no opposing player between himself and the goalkeeper.”
All are predicated on the idea of replacing a lost scoring opportunity.
Traditionally, NHL referees have exercised a narrow interpretation when it comes to whether the player with the puck had a clear path to the goal and was clearly in front of the player fouling him. They also adhered very often to the notion that a player who gets off a shot in the process of being fouled would not be awarded a penalty shot.
But these parameters have certainly changed recently, as illustrated perfectly when Pittsburgh’s Alex Goligoski took down Loui  Eriksson of Dallas last month and when Evgeni Malkin fouled Tampa Bay’s Sean Bergenheim in late October – both resulting in penalty shots. Goligoski was clearly skating beside Eriksson when the call was made, although he hauled down the Stars’ forward and prevented him from getting a shot. Malkin was clearly behind Bergenheim, but the Lightning forward did get off a shot before being awarded a penalty shot.
The result is that the NHL was on pace to award 82 penalty shots this season, up from 55 last season. The penalty shot used to be called “the most exciting play in hockey,” in part because it was a relatively rare occurrence. But given the way referees are handing them out these days – and given that the shootout has served to remove some of that uniqueness – that’s no longer the case.

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