A bloop and a blast sometimes works in baseball. And sometimes a blast and a bloop works in hockey, particularly on the power play. The Pittsburgh Penguins are finding that out.
After going 11 games recently without a man-advantage goal, an 0-for-27 sea of frustration, the team stressed a simpler approach – keep launching the puck toward the net, particularly from the points, to set up rebound chances or at least keep the play alive.
Going into their game Tuesday against the New York Islanders at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins have gone 2-for-7 on the power play over their past three games.
Saturday, on their only chance a man up, the Penguins got a goal from Jake Guentzel. Coach Mike Sullivan pointed out that it came on a rebound – actually a rebound of a rebound – illustrating that the tweaked approach is paying off.
“Hopefully, it’s not a trend; hopefully, it’s a habit,” Sullivan said of blasting the puck repeatedly as a means to increase scoring chances. “I just think they’re taking what the game gives them out there. I thought they worked extremely hard at it. I thought their attention to detail was really good. And they put the pucks on the net.”
The idea isn’t necessarily to weave the puck through traffic and score on each of those blasts, although the team would take that. It’s more about putting the puck in play, jumping on rebounds for more shots and chances and making the penalty killers scramble.
“Sometimes a shot on goal breaks the coverage down better than anything – whether it be five on five or the power play,” Sullivan said. “I thought (Saturday) they did a better job getting pucks to the net, and also we had people in the right positions to contest the rebounds, and the goal we scored was an example of it.”
The couple recent power play goals and the oh-for stretch preceding it came with various power play regulars out of the lineup because of injuries. Saturday, power play quarterback Kris Letang and the team’s best player, Sidney Crosby, were out, along with net-front specialist Patric Hornqvist.
Despite the lack of goals for the long stretch, the Penguins were fairly happy with the puck movement and chances they were getting. Taking the step back and refining their approach has produced results.
PHN asked three defensemen who man the point regularly or, because of injuries, at least some recently, about the directive to blast away.
Justin Schultz is a regular on the top unit without Letang, and sometimes with him if the team is going with a two-defenseman look. He’s on board.
“Yeah, simplify it,” Schultz said. “The more pucks we can get on net, the more opportunities we will have, maybe it will open something up and, hopefully, we’ll get some confidence. If the lane’s there, just take it.”
Rookie John Marino, who has gotten a bit of power play time, has bought in.
“Just trying to get as many shots from the top as possible and get guys in front of the goalie’s eyes,” Marino said. “The last couple of games, we’ve been able to do that.”
Juuso Riikola confirmed his new directive when he’s on the point.
“Yeah, that’s what we try to do now,” he said. “We had a little time there that we didn’t get power play goals, but now we’re trying to simplify it a little bit and get the puck to the net. When the puck goes there, it’s always dangerous.”
But Riikola pointed out there needs to be a little more calculation than just blindly blasting shots.
When the power play goals aren’t coming, it can make the players, particularly the point men, overly cautious in terms of taking shots because it starts to seem as if letting go a shot keeps resulting in a turnover and the puck being sent down the ice. That means retreating, getting another zone entry and getting set up again, eating up precious seconds as well as confidence. It’s much more productive if those on the power play have a better shot at getting a rebound or retrieving the puck.
“We need to get those shots from the top with a better angle, so even if you miss it’s not, like, all the way back in our end,” Riikola said. “We need to keep shooting from the top and with good angles from the point. I think that’s the good thing to (be able to) get the rebounds in the scoring areas.”