It has come to this: The Pittsburgh Penguins, mired in a power play slump, on Friday split top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin onto separate units. If that seems like a desperation move, it’s probably because the Penguins have gone 10 games without a power-play goal, an 0-for-22 drought. Keep in mind they have played just 16 games.
So, during their power play drills at practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, Crosby was on the top unit, Malkin on the second unit.
“Sometimes as a power play group, when you’re not having success there’s a tendency to squeeze sticks,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “These guys are proud guys and they want to contribute and help the team win. So sometimes to split them up and put them on separate units, maybe it tweaks the mindset a little bit and maybe we can spark something.”
The Penguins are 5-4-1 in those 10 games without a man-advantage goal, although they have professed satisfaction with the way they have played in at least some of those losses.
It’s the same with the power play. The team has liked a lot of things about their play when they are up a man – everything but the lack of goals. In addition, during Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders in New York, the Penguins gave up a shorthanded goal.
Malkin was succinct after that game, saying the power play “sucks.”
One of the players Malkin joined on the second unit, Jared McCann, understands the shakeup.
“Sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do – change it up,” McCann said. “We’ve been struggling on the power play. We’re just trying to keep it simple and try to get pucks to the net.”
The idea apparently isn’t so much to change things, but simply to change the outcome.
“We’ve had some really good chances; It just hasn’t gone in,” Crosby said. “I think (the coaches) are just trying to find a way to get one in and, hopefully, get some momentum. With different guys in different spots, maybe you react a little bit more instead of think. It’s no different than line combinations, when you switch something up sometimes you just see if you can score a goal and build on that.
“We’ve worked hard and generated some good zone time and executed pretty well. It’s just a matter of the puck going in the net. We’ve hit posts. We’ve had pucks bounce. They haven’t gone our way. That happens. You’ve got to work through it. As a group, we should be better and more urgent.”
Speaking of tweaking the forward line combinations, the Penguins did that Thursday’s game after falling behind by three goals against the Islanders, and that helped spark a three-goal outburst in the third period plus Bryan Rust’s second goal in overtime for a 4-3 win.
The most significant move had Alex Galchenyuk moving to Crosby’s line with Jake Guentzel. McCann moved to Malkin’s line, along with Rust. Malkin had a goal Thursday and Rust had one in regulation along with the overtime winner.
It appears that, for now, the Malkin-Galchenyuk experiment, which seemed promising at times, is dead in the water, although moving to Crosby’s line would seem like a pretty fair consolation for Galchenyuk, who is in his first season with the Penguins.
“He has the ability to score goals. He’s shown that ability year in and year out in this league,” Sullivan said. “We tried him for quite some time on (Malkin’s) line and we felt we’d make this change to see what happens. Obviously, (Malkin’s new) line had a great third period (Thursday) night, and Alex is a guy that has the ability to play with Sid and Jake. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a little while here. We wanted him to get some games under his belt. If we didn’t feel as though it worked with (Malkin), that this was a possibility or an option for us.”
Will the new looks on the power play and forward lines stick, and for how long? What happens Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks will help determine that, at least in the short term.
Here are the lines the Penguins used Friday at practice:
Alex Galchenyuk-Sidney Crosby-Jake Guentzel
Jared McCann-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Dominik Kahun-Nick Bjugstad-Dominik Simon
Zach Aston-Reese/Teddy Blueger-Brandon Tanev
Sam Lafferty rotated in
And the defensive pairings:
Brian Dumoulin-John Marino
Marcus Pettersson-Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson-Juuso Riikola
And the power play units:
First — Juuso Riikola, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad
Second – Justin Schultz, Marcus Pettersson, Evgeni Malkin, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun