In 2011, the Edmonton Oilers sent him to Los Angeles, and he went from a team at the bottom of the league to one fighting to make the postseason. And while the jump he’s making this season is from Anaheim, the first-place team in the NHL, to a Capitals squad that is fighting to simply make the playoffs, Penner said the transition won’t be a problem.
“It maybe bodes a lot better for me having been on a good team. I think when you come from a team that’s dead last you maybe get in some bad habits,” Penner said Wednesday. “There’s a reason why teams are in last place and it’s a mentality sometimes. I’m coming from a good place mentally being on a team that was number one for how many months and getting confidence that way.”
Penner didn’t have an especially memorable debut with Washington against Philadelphia, but his role on the power play became quite clear as he resided in front of the opposing net for nearly all of his 2:51 on the man advantage.
There’s an inherent challenge for players to assimilate into a new team both on and off the ice in the middle of a season, though. For some it can be a lengthy process, for others it’s as though nothing ever changed. Penner has a reputation of being the latter, an easy-going player with a droll sense of humor but it still takes some time.
“I think it’s our job to help him get acclimated as fast as he can and not put too much strain on him,” Coach Adam Oates said. “But in saying that I think he’s been around the block enough to know how to play and contribute.”
After his first game with the Capitals, Penner acknowledged that there is a learning process.
“There’s little tweaks,” Penner said. “I think systems aren’t as tough as figuring out tendencies of your teammates and them figuring out tendencies of myself. That’s a comfort level that I will try and obtain quickly.”
NHL height and weights are generally understood to be exaggerations in most cases, but in Penner’s case, 6 feet 4 and 247 pounds is not an overstatement, and even new teammates who were used to facing him in the Western Conference gained a new appreciation for the addition of a hulking power forward.
“He’s bigger in person than I thought he was,” Troy Brouwer said. “I know he’s a monster on the ice but sometimes pads can be deceiving. He’s a big guy, he likes to play in those dirty areas. Every time you watch the highlights he’s in front, protects the puck real well and brings a lot of experience to our team.”
Brooks Laich also liked that in terms of moves for the forward group, the Capitals replace the departed Martin Erat with a more gritty presence in Penner.
“We swapped out a perimeter guy for a guy that runs toward the fire,” Laich said of Penner. “This guy goes in, he goes around the net he’s a big body he protects the puck he can take on the one, two or three defenders. He leans on people, he plays downhill hockey. I think he brings a lot of things to our team that we really needed.”