There are quite a few questions about the Penguins going into the 2015-2016 season. Questions about the line-up, player usage, what to do when almost all of your penalty killers have left the team, just to name a few. There is one thing however that is not a question — Do not take this Penguins team to overtime.
Starting this season, the National Hockey League has a new overtime format. The NHL is doing away with the 4-on-4 five minute overtime and replacing it with five minutes of 3-on-3. Whatever games aren’t decided after the new sudden death frame will go to the shootout, as they have since the 2005-2006 season.
This aims to do a few things like increase scoring (OT goals count towards player and team totals) and finish before the shootout. It’s more exciting and fun to watch for casual fans and the players are really excited. However, this overtime format has a few caveats, so let’s go over them, then we’ll get to what makes this Penguins team the most lethal of the NHL’s 30 teams during this new frame.
What 3-on-3 Means
The concept of 3-on-3 has long been favored among many NHL players, including Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. The NHL discussed, then tested, variations of it in the American Hockey League last season before voting it in for the NHL starting this year.
However, unlike the AHL’s test format the NHL one skips 4-on-4 altogether by jumping right to the good stuff. So there are three skaters a side in the five minute overtime period. What if you want to pull your goalie? Any team who wishes to pull the goalie can but they will forfeit the extra point they earned going into extra time if the other team scores into their empty net. And penalties? That’s where it gets interesting.
The NHL does not allow less than three skaters per side. So if a team gets a power play in the extra frame, instead of the other team losing a player, the team with the power play gets an extra, probably fairly fresh, skater making the team down a man keep their three skater format. If the penalized team commits another infraction? The team skating with the extra man gets a second and it’s like a 5-on-3 in regular game play.
What It Means For Pittsburgh
For the Penguins OT was never a real issue. In the Dan Bylsma era they made a living off of taking teams down in the shootout, but they never were a team who shied away from the OT frame. When Mike Johnston stepped behind the bench their OT performance slightly improved while their shootout performance dropped off a cliff (Bylsma frequently practiced shootouts while Johnston prefers not to). But this new 3-on-3?
Even before the team acquired Phil Kessel there were talks of how good Malkin-Crosby-Letang would be as a trio in the new format. Articles tagged the trio as one of the ten best an NHL team could field. Now the Penguins boast a forward depth chart that makes most teams salivate. They can double shift Malkin and Crosby by giving them each lines then sending them together. They can put Kessel out with either of the big guns and add Letang, Maatta, or Pouliot as the third skater. They can go three forwards by placing the quick footed and defensively sound Dupuis with two other forwards. They can go with two defensemen since Letang acts as a rover and Maatta is no slouch. The possibilities, really, are endless.
In the preseason, teams are experimenting with the new format. This means every team is assigned to a few games where no matter the final score they play 3-on-3 so coaches can prepare for it at game speed. On Tuesday against the Red Wings in Detroit only Malkin’s line played of the big guns. He was double shifted and on a penalty-killing shift in the overtime frame when he relentlessly drove into the offensive zone before setting up youngster Oskar Sundqvist for a beautiful goal. During the experiment on Saturday, Crosby didn’t even take three minutes to pot a beauty, slowing the game down then speeding it up faster than anyone else could handle and stashing it behind 2013 Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovksy. The other time they saw 3-on-3 action was in Columbus in their preseason opener where neither team scored in regulation or overtime, but Pittsburgh took home the win in a shootout thanks to Beau Bennett.
Overall, no one bats 1.000 and no one should expect this team to win every single overtime frame it finds itself in, but it’s very likely that they’ll win a whole lot more than they lose in overtime.