Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was succinct and blunt Friday night when asked about his struggling penalty-killing unit. They allowed two goals in four chances Friday against Columbus, one power-play goal on two chances Wednesday night, and one goal against in two chances against Calgary last weekend, too.
In case you’re bad at math, that’s four power-play goals against the Penguins in the last eight chances. Boiled down, that means opponents have a 50/50 shot of scoring a power-play goal when the Penguins take a penalty. Boiled down even further, yikes.
The Penguins however still rank as one of the top-10 penalty-killing units with an 84.4% penalty kill. That ranking won’t last long unless the Penguins quickly fix their structural and personnel issues which are sinking their man-disadvantage effort.
At the beginning signs of trouble last week, Sullivan explained the PK was breaking down structurally and not attacking pressure points. As you will see in the sequence, the structure of the PK is breaking too often. Friday night, he explained it more simply.
“We weren’t good enough,” Sullivan said.
Pittsburgh Penguins PK Structure
Whether the Penguins are in a box or a diamond, they break down. In this example, they morph into the diamond configuration with one point defender and two defenders covering the wings. But neither lasts.
Watch as one shot quickly broke down the Penguins formation.
As the Columbus shot got through to the net, the Penguins collapsed all four penalty killers below the dots, which is usually a bad move. However, the big mistake here is both defenseman John Marino and forward Zach Aston-Reese pursued the puck in the corner, despite the clear Columbus advantage. My initial reaction is that Marino should have stayed home and let Aston-Reese defend on the wall, but the two must communicate. Some teams want the defender to go, others want the forward in the corner. Either way, it’s a critical mistake.
Aston-Reese realized Marino would get there first and peeled up the wall to cut off the low-to-high pass, but that was the wrong move, too. By going all the way to the wall, he left the Penguins PK vulnerable to a prime scoring chance because of the large patch of uncovered ice in the scoring zone.
As you can see in the final frame, defenseman Jack Johnson successfully cleaned the crease to give Tristan Jarry the best look at the point-blank chance. Since Gustav Nyquist was on his backhand, this was a stoppable shot, but one that should not have occurred.
The goal gave Columbus a 3-1 lead and held up as the game-winner. It also set the Penguins on their heels even further. The Penguins penalty killing mistakes have become too common recently. As the team struggles to stack wins instead of points, the special teams have to be on-point. Literally and figuratively.