On the penalty kill, the opportunities can appear in an instant.
When those moments arise, that’s when Brandon Prust strikes.
“I’ve always killed penalties,” the Rangers forward said. “And just always look for the opportunities and seem to make the best of them.”
In his first full season with the Rangers, Prust has emerged as one of the top shorthanded specialists in the NHL. Prust is tied for the league lead with seven shorthanded points, is second with five shorthanded goals and is a key reason why the Rangers are fourth in the NHL in shorthanded goals.
In fact, Prust’s total of five shorthanded goals is tied with or better than 11 teams in the league entering Thursday night’s action.
“That’s why we we’re at where we’re at in terms of putting up points on the penalty kill, because he has so many,” forward Brian Boyle said. "You have a guy like that who's like a specialist in a way but he does so many other things, so you don’t want to call him that, but he’s really effective at the PK and that’s why we are where we are.”
A shorthanded goal can be a game changer. The team on the power play goes from a state of control to disbelief as it watches the undermanned squad poke one through at a time of weakness. To have a player who has excelled at this gives the Rangers an advantage at a time of disadvantage.
Although Prust said he led one of his junior league teams in shorthanded goals, he had not scored one in his NHL career before this season. He scored his first on Nov. 26 at Florida and most recently added a shorthanded tally in the Rangers' 6-3 win against the Islanders March 15.
“He just has a knack around the puck and it doesn’t even look like he can get up the ice some times and he ends up beating the guy,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “The puck tends to follow him. Our penalty killing has been pretty consistent throughout the year, but with Pruster, I don’t have an answer. It’s big times in games also.”
While Prust doesn’t have a concrete reason for his effectiveness, he kept referring to taking advantage of opportunities. The Rangers stress as a team to put more pressure on the opposing team with their forwards and to try and dump the puck into the opponent’s zone to disrupt the power play.
As one of the forwards on the penalty kill, alongside Boyle, Prust reinforced the pressuring notion, saying that it can create scoring chances. Speed becomes a factor, as he has to be able to outrace his opponent to the puck and beat the opposing forward down the ice. Forward Brandon Dubinsky said Prust’s speed is underrated.
Other times, a shorthanded goal can rely on making the right reads. Prust said he has to judge whether he can chase an opponent or perhaps make a play based on the position of the goalie. If he sees his defenders have corralled the puck, Prust might try to head down ice and score.
In connection with making the right reads, he also stressed making the correct judgment on whether to rush down the ice. He said he always has to make sure that he has energy to get back on defense if he doesn’t score, as he could leave his team at a 5-on-3 disadvantage if he doesn’t make a quick turnaround.
As for his last shorthanded goal against the Islanders, he called it a quick break where the Islanders were changing. Prust joined the offense and ended up scoring off a rebound created by the penalty kill. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead on that goal.
“On penalty kills especially you’re going to get some opportunities due to hustle,” Prust said, “and due to the other team relaxing because they know they are a man up.”
As much as decisions play a critical part in scoring a shorthanded goal, Prust doesn’t make his prowess on the penalty kill seem like a devised formula and strategy. Sometimes, an entire penalty kill will be no more than just continuously defending. Other times, penalty kills can become offensive attacks.
As he’ll be the first to say, it’s all about capitalizing.
“You don’t get too many penalty-kill chances," Prust said. “It’s just taking advantage of those opportunities."