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Jake Guentzel did something on Thursday that he admits is rare.

He scored a goal.

To be clear, the All-Star Pittsburgh Penguins forward scores a lot. The two 40-goal seasons he has on his resume are a testament to that.

But the way he scored his first goal against the Florida Panthers (4-2) on Thursday was unique.

For him.

Positioned on the right side of the crease, he bent his right skate to deflect Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin’s puck into the Panthers cage for the lead.

When asked Wednesday in Cranberry how often he uses his skates for scrimmage games, Guentzel suggested a thin audit.

“Not much,” Guentzel said. “I don’t use it much. Catch passes, maybe. But that’s it.”

There really aren’t any statistics on how often players use their skates to play bubble. So it’s hard to measure exactly how often the Penguins do compared to the NHL’s 31 other franchises.

But it’s clearly something the Penguins have had significant success with lately.

In a 4-3 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabers on Dec. 9, forward Jeff Carter scored the game-winning goal, offering some footwork that would have stunned Luka Modric.

Penguins forward Rickard Rakell, working on a power play opportunity, shot to the front of the crease where Carter was positioned.

Carter blocked the puck with his right skate, then kicked forward with his left skate before making a shovel kick to win the contest.

Although Guentzel says it’s a rare occurrence for him, one of his teammates offers a different assessment.

“I feel every movement,” Raquel said. “You have to use your skates because the guys are really good at hooking sticks. Being around the wall sometimes you have to use your stick to protect the knocker (so) you have to use your feet instead. Almost every shift. … Boxes coming off the wall don’t always land on your stick, so you have to catch it with your skate first, then get it to your stick as quickly as possible.”

And it’s not just a tactic for those trying to run an offense.

“If you consider the wall plays and the pucks fight the wall,” said forward Teddy Bluger, normally a fourth-line center and one of the Penguins’ leading penalty killers, “and just throw the puck out. … Wall plays, when (defensive backs) press walls or whatever, you use that to take away the wall and close that lane.”

Skating isn’t something teams spend significant time on in practice. Or any, frankly. It’s probably more of an instinctive action that gets perfected with practice and comes into play in the game.

“A little bit of both,” Bluger said. “Like anything else, the more reps you get, the better you get. But sometimes some of them are so dumb or such one-offs that it’s hard to apply that script.”

Again, without any hard data, it’s hard to say whether NHLers are using their skates more than in any previous era. Anecdotally, it seems to be a bit more common in today’s NHL.

“It’s definitely a skill,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, himself a defensive tackle in the 1990s and 2000s. “The game is so fast there that sometimes you don’t get perfect passes. It’s not always in your tape. Having the ability to bring back poxus no matter where they are is definitely an important skill I think. We talk a lot about passing and receiving, but receiving skills are just as important as passing skills. Your skates are a big part of that.

“Nobody’s better at it than (forward Sidney Crosby). The way he can get pucks that are in his skates and hit them on his stick to make the next play is a remarkable skill that he possesses. But he is not the only one. There are a lot of guys working on it a lot of the time. Maybe it’s because the speed of the game maybe makes for errant passes. It’s a little bit more controlled chaos there, I think, than before, where it might have been a little bit more of a controlled game. That might have something to do with it.”

Seth Rorabaugh is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. You can reach Seth via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .



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