The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play is statistically one of the worst in the NHL. The man advantage has scored only 16 goals and ranks above only six other teams. In those struggles are a handful of direct and indirect negative results that limit the Penguins.
The 26th-ranked power play is converting 18.4%, though they got a little feel-good on Tuesday with a 5v4 power-play goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also amassed eight shots on five opportunities; such a healthy total is a significant leap forward from the terse struggle to even gets pucks on net during power plays.
A few more goals have to follow.
One Penguins player acknowledged the sagging power play is dragging down talk of Sidney Crosby winning the Hart Trophy.
“He’s playing so well right now. A few more power-play goals…,” said the player with a leading nod. There was no reason to finish the sentence.
A few more power-play goals and Sidney Crosby would be higher than seventh in the NHL scoring, and his play would be receiving even more attention.
Crosby leads the NHL with 29 even-strength points. Not the red-hot Jason Robertson or Connor McDavid is ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain.
Power Play Boosts 5v5?
Coach Mike Sullivan offered an interesting take on the power play and its inherent connection to even-strength success.
“If you don’t score goals, it’s also hard to win if you don’t keep it out of your net. You’ve got to defend, too,” Sullivan began. “I think these guys take a lot of pride in their offensive games, and the power-play is important to those guys. In my experience, just as a coach … the power play is important to those guys. And when the power-play goes well, I think it also builds their overall game five-on-five.”
The confidence and the boosts from a few power-play goals not only put numbers on the scoreboard, but Sullivan believes it begets more 5v5 goals and more power-play goals.
“I think they’re gaining traction. Most recently, we’ve seen a semblance of a power play that we’re used to, just with their puck possession, the plays they make, their execution,” Sullivan said. “When those guys feeling it, they’re pretty good.”
Thursday at practice, the Penguins’ top power-play unit remained the same since Kris Letang’s absence (Letang skated with the team in full pads on Thursday). Jeff Petry was at the top of PP1, and Rickard Rakell remained on the top unit.
You may have noticed the precision and sometimes otherworldly connection that Rakell has with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line.
On the power play, the integration factor is multiplied.
Joining the Penguins’ power play is as much as learning the set plays as it is anticipating the plays from the Einstein-level hockey IQs of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“(Malkin and Crosby), they can make plays out of nothing, so we try to have some plays drawn up from the faceoffs and just to try to get an advantage on the opponents and watch film. And then it’s kind of up to us to execute,” Rakell said.
“You can see when a power play is feeling it. You’re making those plays. The ice opens up for you. When you have that confidence, you either feel confident shooting the puck, and you feel confident in making that play that you see.”
Crosby’s first goal on Thursday was even strength and a quick set play. From the faceoff win, Jake Guentzel snapped a one-timer as Crosby circled to the net. Rebound. Goal.
After peppering the Columbus Blue Jackets with shots, the Penguins’ power play finally got one later in the second period.
At even strength with the top, Crosby did something the Pittsburgh Penguins have not done enough this season. He established a position in the opponent’s crease. A couple of quick passes became a Crosby-deflected goal.
And it was another little arrow in the quiver of those who want to insert Sidney Crosby, the best player of the generation, into the Hart Trophy conversation.
Now, just a few more power-play goals…