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Last updated: February 15. 2013 8:25PM - 157 Views

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It's a simple yet effective power-play tactic: put the big guys in front of the net, shoot the puck in from the points and hope for the best.


Net-front power plays are a common sight throughout pro hockey and it's a big reason why the Penguins rank 12th in the AHL with an 18.7 percent success rate with the man advantage.


By appearance, the net-front power play that the Penguins employ is simple. Two big guys get in front of the net when the puck gets out to the points and create a wall in front of the opposing goaltender.


"It's a place where if you go there at the right times it can be high reward," said Ryan Craig, one of the Penguins' net-front specialists. "It's where you want to be. The puck has to come to the net to go into the net."


On the ice, however, when players post themselves in front of the crease, it creates a ripple effect that is felt through every position, beginning with the goaltender trying to see around the wall in front.


Penguins netminder Patrick Killeen said traffic in front of the crease can transform a routine shot from the point into a nightmare.


"By itself, a point shot isn't usually threatening if you get in front of it and control the rebound. But as soon as you get people in front of you, it can be difficult to follow the puck and puts more pressure on you to watch for tips and control rebounds," he said.


Killeen takes the initiative early in a game to let opponents know he doesn't want them around his crease. That might mean a simple shove in the back or a little slash on the back of the legs to let them know the crease is his.


It's important to set such a tone early, Killeen said, before things start to snowball.


"They'll see what they can get away with, and if you let them stand there at the start of the game they'll do it all night," he said. "Before you know it, you'll be backed up to the goal line and there will be guys all over you."


And that makes for a frustrated goalie.


During his 12-year pro career, Jason Williams has seen plenty of goaltenders lose it when they're crease gets blocked. With a player in front the net, not only can a goaltender lose the puck, but he can't come out to play the angles either, Williams said.


And if a goal is scored during such a scenario, a goaltender's nerves are really put to the test.


"You can see their frustration. The goalie will look at his D and put up his hands because he couldn't see the puck," Williams said. "When you have a goaltender throwing his hands up in the air because he can't see the puck, you know you're in his kitchen."


One of the best at getting in the goaltender's kitchen is Geoff Walker. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Walker can plant himself at the edge of the crease and make himself unmovable during a power play. Walker has scored 10 power-play goals this season, good enough for ninth overall in the AHL, and most of the tallies have come from putting home loose pucks in front.


"As soon as a shot comes, I look behind me to see where the goalie is, move right there and let the puck come in," Walker said. "If it hits you, then you have a rebound laying there. If not, then maybe it got by him."


Walker not only uses his body to frustrate goaltenders, he also will offer a few choice words to try to get them off their game. He recalled a game earlier this season when the opposing goalie was flopping around whenever he would get in front of the net.


"He was looking for a penalty and I told him to stop diving, in addition to some other things I can't really say right now," Walker said. "It's just banter back and forth and it gets you into the game.


The next positions to feel the net-front frustration are the defensemen, who not only have to clear the crease but try to cover the other forwards when they are out-manned on a power play.


Penguins blueliner Brian Strait is one of the team's main penalty killers, and he said it's a dangerous proposition to move a guy out of the crease at times, especially during a five-on-three penalty kill.


"Your job is to not get tied up with the guys in front of the net because they'll try to obstruct you and make it hard to get from side to side," Strait said.


In those situations it's up to the goaltender to take care of the net.


"That's a save you're hoping he can make," Strait said. "Most of the time we have to play off the guy that's in front of the net and try not to get tied up with him."


But that doesn't mean when a player gets in front he will go unpunished. Craig calls playing in front of the net "a battle" and chalked up the abuse to the price one pays to be on the power play.


Walker called it one of the hardest places to get to – a place that you have to love to play in.


And from his spot on the point, Williams feels an obligation to get shots to the net as a reward for his teammates who are paying a price in front.


"If I'm in front of the net and I know a slapshot is going to hit me, I'm like a deer caught in the headlights. I can't get out of the way," Williams said. "You don't know if that shot is going to be high on you and at the same time you have the goalie and defenders trying to move you. They take a lot of punishment."


There's more to absorbing hits and pucks that goes into playing in front of the net. Walker tries to work himself underneath the defensemen so it's just him and the goaltender. Then he plays like the goaltender does.


"I move as the goalie would move – with the puck. When the shot comes, you stand like a goalie and don't move," he said.


At the point, Williams is keeping a close eye on the situation in front of the net. When he gets ready to shoot, he aims for his teammates' stick.


"I tell the guys in front to put their stick out to whatever side they want the shot. I'm not just trying to hit the net, I'm also shooting for a stick," Williams said. "They obstruct the goaltender's vision and use their stick as a guide for where they want the puck."


During his time in the NHL, Williams played with one of the game's best net-front players in Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom. He had an unorthodox approach in that he held his stick in front rather to the side. That way, Williams said, Holmstrom could quickly adjust to whichever side the shot was headed.


"He always said that he didn't care where you shoot the puck, at his head or wherever, just shoot it so he can get his stick on it," Williams said. "He scored more than half his goals from a foot outside the crease, and it was always screen the goaltender first then get a stick on it."


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