What if there was one simple fix to improve the Pittsburgh Penguins power play?
The broken system has produced more failures than all but one other NHL team and has become such an albatross around the Penguins’ season that mere signs of energy and momentum are moral victories. The Penguins, with three sure-fire Hall of Famers and a pair of All-Star caliber players, are converting power plays at only 13.25%.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team worse at 12.5%.
System. Egos. Desire. Everything has been called into question as the floundering power play cost them yet another game Friday night when they were 1-for-8 in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers. One can only imagine if the Penguins’ power play was marginally competent. How many more victories would they have, and how dramatically different would the season outlook be?
If the Penguins were in third place in the Metro Division, would fans be clamoring for an Oppenheimer-level roster blow-up?
Through the personnel changes, including a couple more on Friday, the Penguins continue to stumble.
The three constants on the power play are Erik Karlsson, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby.
The drop passes, lateral movements, and forced cross-ice attempts are bad. The number of shorthanded opportunities only adds salt to an already festering wound of incompetence. Florida hit a pair of crossbars Friday and had a prime scoring chance against the Penguins 5v3.
For most of the first four months of the 2023-24 NHL season, the power play has been a battle not against the opponents but against themselves. One puck and too many players.
There is one thing the Penguins have not yet tried.
Let Erik Karlsson run the show. Let him dominate it.
Karlsson’s power play work with the San Jose Sharks was a driving factor in his 100-point season a year ago. He was also the captain of the ship that scored three goals on one third-period major penalty in an extraordinary 2019 playoff game against the Vegas Golden Knights that is still talked about.
The Golden Knights cleared the puck numerous times on that power play, but Karlsson quickly reestablished zone control and pressure with speed and decisiveness.
It’s time the Penguins tapped into that ability.
No more puck shares. No more “system” to put the puck in the hands of others, whether it be Crosby on the wall or near the net or Malkin on the mid-wall or the top of the zone.
Penguins’ president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas went all in on Karlsson, and the defenseman costs the team $10 million per season.
Obvious frustrations are building on all sides. The step following frustration is tension.
Since Dubas went all in, it’s time the team did, too.
“I just think we’ve got to stick with it. We made some tweaks down the stretch there at the end, with some different personnel groups. I don’t know where we’ll go. Moving forward, we’ll discuss that as a coaching staff,” Sullivan said Friday night. “I know that the guys that are on it care deeply about the power play and understand how important it is to help us win. And so these guys put a lot of pressure on themselves to produce for us in those situations. When it doesn’t go the right way … they’re proud guys, and nobody cares more than they do. So we’re just going to stay with it here.”
There aren’t a lot of personnel combinations left to try. Recall Letang ran the Penguins’ struggling power play of last season. However, those struggles would be much preferable to the current rotation of fizzling, derelictions, and floundering but still far short of success.
It’s time to give the puck to power-play QB and let him play Erik Karlsson hockey instead of Penguins hockey.
How much worse could it be?