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Here’s Why Penguins Are Scoring Power-Play Goals



Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby

There’s a pretty simple formula for scoring power-play goals, and the Pittsburgh Penguins know it well.

They just didn’t follow it much until the past few weeks.

And it showed in the results.

Now, there’s nothing ground-breaking about the idea of sending pucks and bodies to the net — shots can create rebounds and chaos, and obscuring a goalie’s vision decreases the chances of him stopping any pucks headed his way — but the payoff for doing those things is hard to ignore.

Fact is, clubs with a lot less talent than the Penguins that execute such a strategy routinely cash in on a higher percentage of their chances with the extra man than the Penguins did through the early portion of this season.

“We just needed to get to the net-front a little more, especially on the power play,” Jake Guentzel said. “Just kind of get some pucks there. Hopefully, create some traffic. I don’t think we did that at the beginning of the year.”

Definitely not, but that hasn’t been an issue lately.

The Penguins’ power play enters their game against Carolina Thursday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena on a 13-for-35 roll over the past nine games, with at least one man-advantage goal in each of them. That’s after going 12-for-74 (16.2 percent) in their first 23 games.

What, if anything, caused the Penguins to abandon the idea of trying to manufacture a highlight-caliber goal every time they got an extra man and embrace the tenets of a more basic, fundamentally sound approach isn’t known — perhaps they simply tired of underachieving, and losing points because of it — but there’s no question about the impact of adjusting their approach.

You can start with their 8-1 record in those past nine games.

“It started with just knowing what our plan is, knowing what we want to do,” Rickard Rakell said. “That’s attacking the net, putting pucks to the net. Not only looking for those backdoor tap-ins.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers Tuesday illustrated the value of going to the net and, if necessary, hovering there.

Evgeni Malkin scored their first goal after Rakell prevented goalie Igor Shesterkin from seeing Malkin’s shot from the top of the left circle and Bryan Rust got their second when he set up at the top of the crease and steered in a P.O Joseph shot. Both were scored during power plays.

“It creates havoc, and you see the results of it,” Sidney Crosby said. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s a good detail to make sure you have consistently. And we’ve gotten good results because of it.”

That having an effective net-front presence can lead directly to significantly improved power-play stats isn’t a revelation for the Penguins, Patric Hornqvist handled that role for them for quite a few seasons, and going to the net with a purpose is part of the reason they converted six of 23 power plays against the Rangers during a first-round playoff series in May.

“Last year against the Rangers … we were the top team in the league, in terms of screened attempts and making sure we were in the blue paint a lot,” said associate coach Todd Reirden, who oversees the power play.

He acknowledged, though, that the Pittsburgh Penguins strayed from that approach for most of October and November, that “analytics numbers that showed we weren’t doing as much of that this year.”

Reirden was quick to add that the power-play units “have really taken to” the idea of going to the net and sending pucks there as much as possible in recent weeks, and are being rewarded for it.

“That’s something that’s allowed us to have our recent success,” he said. “It’s having people at the front of the net to provide a more difficult play for the goaltender to read and save, and also the aspect that our players are putting more pucks in play than they were earlier.”

Of course, the power play is unlikely to maintain its torrid pace for the balance of the season. There will be stretches when good penalty-killing and goaltending or bad luck — or both — will prevent them from capitalizing on opportunities with the extra man.

But the issue should not be a failure to understand how best to proceed when their opponent is shorthanded. Not when they’ve seen the value of sending pucks and people to the net.

“We have a good plan when we go out there,” Rakell said. “We’re really trying to use the man-advantage. Wherever that is on the ice, we’re doing a good job right now.”