With an average age of 30.8 the Pittsburgh Penguins are indisputably the oldest team in the NHL, and sometimes they look it.
In many cases that's a bad thing, as the Penguins have disappointed more than they've impressed during their 6-6-0 start to the season. But sometimes age means experience — and, as a result, wisdom. Sometimes being a little long in the tooth might help you win a hockey game or two.
That seemed to be the case on Thursday as Pittsburgh defeated a rising Los Angeles Kings team using a relic of hockey's distant past. The Penguins didn't pummel the Kings into submission with line brawls, employ a New Jersey Devils neutral-zone trap, or encourage netminder Magnus Hellberg to eschew the butterfly and go back to a stand-up style of goaltending.
Instead, they created half of their goals via the wraparound.
The wraparound may not strike hockey fans as a truly archaic maneuver at first blush, but there is no denying it's a goal-scoring method that is seldom employed these days.
According to NHL.com's data, there were only six wraparound goals scored this season prior to Thursday night's action — most notably including the first goal of Connor Bedard's career.
CONNOR BEDARD WITH HIS FIRST NHL GOAL 🥳🚨 pic.twitter.com/pQeHIDx7WO
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 11, 2023
Considering 1,245 goals were scored around the league in the first 29 days of the NHL season, it's fair to call the wraparound an extreme rarity. Before the Penguins got to work, the move accounted for 0.48% of all goals scored.
Yet in the first period on Thursday, 36-year-old Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with an unassisted beauty around the net.
After approximately 55-and-a-half more minutes of hockey, the game ended with another from Bryan Rust.
BRYAN RUST, OUR OVERTIME HERO! 💪 pic.twitter.com/jJtpyPwrN3
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 10, 2023
It seems unlikely that those results reflect some kind of plan on the Penguins' part. It's conceivable that they identified the move as a way to exploit a weakness in Kings goaltender Pheonix Copley, but Copley has been so bad this season that he hasn't required teams to find creative ways to beat him.
The wraparound isn't even a signature move for Crosby or Rust.
While Sid the Kid is fourth in total goals since the NHL started tracking shot types in 2009-10 (425), his three wraparound markers are tied for 33rd in the league, while his 27 attempts are tied for 94th. Rust has the same number of goals, and fewer attempts (25).
Realistically, Thursday's game was more of a statistical fluke than an example of the NHL's elder statesmen turning back the clock and showing a team of young whippersnappers how the game is played. For what it's worth, the Kings are a middle-aged squad with a top center (Anže Kopitar) who's 36 and a No. 1 defenseman (Drew Doughty) who's 33.
It would be a hell of a development if Pittsburgh becomes a team with an offense based on circling the net and cramming the puck in, but it's unlikely to happen.
Even so, there's some poetry to the NHL's oldest squad employing a move that's virtually irrelevant in the modern game to great effect in a win. The wraparound may be a dying art, but for one night at least, it helped a group of greybeards earn two points.