Connect with us


Personnel Changes to Penguins’ Power Play ‘Never Off the Table’



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, NHL news

CRANBERRY — An underachieving power play isn’t the only reason the Pittsburgh Penguins are sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff field as they enter the second half of the season.

It is, however, one of the biggest.

The Penguins scored on just 19 of 137 chances with the extra man during their first 41 games, a conversion rate of 13.9 percent that placed them 26th in the NHL rankings.

The league median is a little over 21 percent, which means that if the Penguins were simply producing around the NHL average, they might be comfortably in a playoff berth now.

They finally appeared to be getting their work with the man-advantage on track in recent weeks — it generated 12 goals during a 13-game stretch — but it went 0-for-4 in each of their past two games, both overtime losses.

And it cratered during their 3-2 defeat at Carolina Saturday, recording only two shots on Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta during those four tries. Carolina’s penalty-kill, which has given up just two goals in the past six games, had something to do with that, but it also was an obvious relapse by the Penguins’ power play.

“They’re a good penalty-kill, so they make it tough out there,” Jake Guentzel said after the Penguins’ practice Sunday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “But more of it’s on us, that we have to make the right decisions and not force things.”

The Penguins’ workout Sunday lasted only about 15 minutes, but a significant chunk of it was devoted to special-teams play.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, Bryan Rust and Guentzel worked on the No. 1 group, while Kris Letang, Rickard Rakell, Jeff Carter, Lars Eller and Valtteri Puustinen were on the second.

Those are expected to be the units coach Mike Sullivan deploys when the Pittsburgh Penguins face Seattle Monday at 1:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena, although he acknowledged that personnel changes are possible if the power play’s output doesn’t improve.

“We’re always considering those things,” Sullivan said. “We always consider personnel changes, with respect to every facet of our game. That’s never off the table.”

At first blush, personnel should be a non-issue for this power play, since three members of the top unit — Crosby, Malkin and Karlsson — are locks to end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Rust and Guentzel are reliable goal-scorers.

“There’s definitely a belief (in the personnel),” Crosby said. “We know that it comes down to minor details, things that make a huge difference in whether you convert or not.”

Precisely which of those details are the most pressing depends on one’s perspective — “I don’t know if it’s just holding the puck a little bit too long or not making the right play,” Guentzel said — but the Pittsburgh Penguins still seem confident that they’re capable of getting the power play to produce it its potential.

“It’s always comes down to execution,” Crosby said. “Giving ourselves a chance, just with executing and not turning (the puck) over. That’s the big key. But for the most part, our (zone) entries have been pretty good. It’s a matter of making sure that we handle teams’ pressure and that we outwork them. At the end of the day, just trying to outwork the other team’s (penalty-kill) with the skill that we have, we’ll make plays from there.”

Those plays don’t have to involve anything that lead to lots of airtime on the highlights shows. Sticking to the basics, like getting pucks and bodies to the net, might well be enough.

“We just have to get back to shooting and keeping it simple,” Guentzel said. “And, hopefully, we’ll gain some confidence and traction.”

Traction that should help them move up in the standings.