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Karlsson, Guentzel Explain Why Penguins’ Power Play is Awful



Erik Karlsson

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play was 0-for-5 during their 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday evening.

Which is to say, it was pretty much a typical night at the office.

“You can’t win games like that,” Jake Guentzel said. “We just have to be better.”

Fair point, but the Penguins haven’t been very often this season. They’ve played 18 games, and have gotten a man-advantage goal in exactly four of them.

For the season, they’ve scored on 13.7 percent of their chances with the extra man, a conversion rate that’s good for 26th place in the 32-team league.

Guentzel offered a pretty simple explanation for why the Pittsburgh Penguins have underachieved with the man-advantage.

“We’re trying to pass it in the net sometimes,” he said. “That’s not the way to have success. You have to make the right play. You have to move the puck fast, move the puck hard and try to get (the penalty-killers) tired that way. We’re just not being simple right now. We’re trying to do too much.”

The statistics support his perspective: Rangers goalie Jonathan Quick had to make just five saves during those five power plays.

“You have to get the puck (to the net),” Erik Karlsson said. “That’s one of the things we haven’t done a good job at, getting guys in there and getting pucks down there. … If you don’t get the puck down there, you don’t get quality scoring looks.”

That’s not all about this power play that Karlsson feels that needs to be fixed.

“We need to do a little bit better job recovering pucks, and being in spots when we have to release pressure,” he said. “Because most teams nowadays have a lot of good skaters, and penalty-killing is all about putting pressure on the guys. We try to do the same on our PK, and we’ve been successful at that, so we have to find a way of releasing pressure for ourselves in situations where other teams are pushing in the zone. We haven’t done a good enough job in doing that and breaking them down and sustaining any (offensive-)zone time.”

The Penguins are 1-for-20 with the extra man in their past eight games, with the lone goal coming when Buffalo defenseman Erik Johnson inadvertently deflected a Karlsson shot into the Sabres’ net on Nov. 11.

“It’s obviously not going the way that we want,” Karlsson said. “Today, we got ourselves some opportunities. Couldn’t find a way to break (the penalty-killers) down. There are various reasons for that. We’re going to keep pounding at it. We have everything we need. Now, we just have to find a way to make it all work and execute a lot better, managing that puck when we have one more guy than they do on the ice.”

Dry spells tend to be almost self-sustaining. Every time a power play’s success rate drops a bit, the confidence of its members can do likewise.

“With each additional power play, these guys … they care an awful lot,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’ve got a lot of pride and when it doesn’t go the right way, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to make it work. That was a little bit of the case (against the Rangers). I think they were forcing it. We were challenging sticks. As a result, because we were forcing it, we looked robotic instead of just instinctive. That’s when our guys are at their best.”

While Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves can’t be held accountable for the power play’s miseries — he was on the ice for only 21 seconds of the eight minutes, 47 seconds the Penguins had an extra man — he did hold himself culpable for the play that led to the only goal of the game.

Just over five minutes into the game, Graves turned the puck over to Rangers center Mika Zibanejad in the neutral zone. Zibanejad pushed the puck ahead to Alexis Lafreniere, who beat Tristan Jarry on a breakaway.

“I feel responsible for that one, of course,” Graves said. “Terrible play by me.”