“I’m not sure where I’m at,” with the power play said Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, Saturday after the Penguins lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1.
The power play was 0-for-3 with only three shot attempts and allowed their league-leading 14th shorthanded goal. Or does one trail the league with bad stats?
Sullivan in his fourth year as the Penguins head coach is rarely if ever at a loss for an appropriate answer. They are not always direct answers but Sullivan has a deep rolodex of stock answers to turn aside questions when needed. Saturday night after the Penguins were short against the Columbus Blue Jackets and yet another shorthanded goal was the difference, Sullivan displayed a moment of blunt honesty and a bit of exasperation.
As Phil Kessel flopped to the ice, tripped by the blue line, Columbus winger Cam Atkinson streaked into the Penguins zone to score the 14th shortie against the Penguins this season.
“I’m not sure where I’m at with it. We haven’t given up those types of chances in a while,” Sullivan said. “Ummm. (pause). But I’m not sure where I’m at.”
Sullivan wasn’t ready to give his team a pass just because Kessel looked like a fawn hitting the ice for the first time.
“It’s more than that. We have to be better at the details. When you talk about the power play breakout, it’s about cooperative play,” Sullivan said. “It’s timing. We try to game plan for every penalty kill, there are no surprises.”
It sounded like Sullivan indicated the Penguins were lax in their breakout and simply relied on the center ice drop pass play to Kessel. After Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz dropped the puck for Kessel there wasn’t much attention paid until the SOS signal went out, but it was too late to catch Atkinson.
“We know teams are going to chase us down the ice. We try to game plan for it. Then it boils down to execution,” Sullivan said as he seemed to indicate the Penguins had a plan for the Columbus PK but it wasn’t followed. The Penguins were 0-for-3 on the power play. “It’s execution and attention to detail. When we get away from it, we’re not as good.”
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Penguins had only three power-play shots, Saturday night. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Zach Trotman had shots on goal. The Penguins did not create a rush attempt or a rebound chance. The only other person to attempt a shot with the man advantage was Nick Bjugstad.
In other words, the Penguins power play wasn’t nearly as productive as the Columbus penalty kill; the hundreds (or thousands?) of Penguins fans in Columbus would have been justified in yelling “Shoot!”
The Penguins power play still ranks sixth in the NHL at 24.9 percent.
The Penguins do miss defenseman Kris Letang, who is healing from an upper-body injury suffered during the Stadium Series game. Saturday night, the team did not attempt a shot from the right point and only one shot from the point, total.
During their six-game points streak, the Penguins won puck battles and put pucks towards the net but they didn’t attack the Columbus penalty kill, Saturday. Schultz, Kesel, and even Patric Hornqvist did not have a shot attempt in three power plays. Though Hornqvist’s shot attempts are predicated more on the work of the first two than his efforts.
And was anyone else surprised by Trotman getting nearly two minutes of power play time?
“We had 4-on-3 for 40 seconds and 5v4 a couple of times. If we played better 5v4, we had a great chance to win,” said Evgeni Malkin.
But the Penguins didn’t play well with the advantage but still had a chance to win but could not get enough good scoring chances at 5v5, either.
The Penguins have the Boston Bruins, who have points in 19 straight games, tonight at PPG and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Sullivan may not have much time to tinker if that’s what he feels necessary.