There is no obvious fix for all that is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play.
It has failed on 26 consecutive tries in the past 10 games, including a 0-for-5 showing during their 4-3 shootout loss to Philadelphia Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
One possibility to lift it out of that rut that has not been ruled out would be to return defenseman Kris Letang to the No. 1 unit to which he belonged for so many seasons, before the Penguins acquired Erik Karlsson.
“We certainly have to consider everything at this point, because we have to find a way to get better and make improvements,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I don’t think we can take anything off the table, as far as personnel groups or tactics or whatever. Obviously, Kris has been a big part of it for a long time.”
Letang now works on the second unit and is averaging just 75 seconds of power-play time per game.
But while he isn’t as involved with the power play as he has been for most of his career, he insists that it is on the cusp of producing goals.
“It’s right there,” he said. “Sid (Crosby) almost scored in the third period to give us the lead. … It’s like one of those where, once it goes in, it’s going to start going in (regularly) for us. … Eventually, it’s going to work. They’re too good of players to stay in that little funk.”
Teams like to set a tone for games during the early minutes of play, and the Penguins certainly did that in the first period of their game against the Flyers.
That’s when they generated all of three — count ’em, three — shots on Philadelphia goalie Samuel Ersson, a pretty good indication of the kind of lackluster performance they were going to turn in.
“I don’t think they saw our best, at all, tonight,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “It was kind of low-energy for us. It’s tough. We got a great win in Tampa (Thursday) and should have been excited for this one.
“We didn’t get the crowd involved, coming from a two-game road trip. A Saturday night. It was packed in there. A rivalry game like that, you can use the crowd to your advantage, get them into it. We didn’t do a good enough job of creating (offensive-)zone time … Our start really killed our energy.”
Pettersson is a core member of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ penalty-kill that has been effective this season — he’s averaging two minutes, 45 seconds of shorthanded work per game, only four seconds less than Letang’s team-leading figure — but gave up a goal that broke a 2-2 tie in the third period against the Flyers.
“It was a tough one,” Pettersson said. “We wanted to pressure a little bit more than we did.”
Aside from a five-win winning streak in early November, the Penguins have won consecutive games just once this season, Their inability to string together victories helps to explain why they’re marooned in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division.
“Consistency has been a factor that we’ve been talking about,” Pettersson said. “The five-game winning streak, and then it’s been a win here and a loss there, two losses there and a win here. We came off a big win (against the Lightning). We should have been hungry for this one. It was disappointing, for sure.”
Jake Guentzel scored the Pittsburgh Penguins’ second and third goals, the latter coming with just 20.6 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime and salvage a point for the Penguins.
“It was nice to get one at the end, and at least get a point,” Guentzel said. “But we’d like to get two.”
While they’re in no position to be surrendering points that are within their grasp, the Penguins will have a chance to pull even with Philadelphia in the Metropolitan standings if they can defeat the Flyers in regulation at Wells Fargo Center Monday night.
“We’ve got them again on Monday,” Guentzel said. “It’s another big game. They’re ahead of us in the standings, so we just have to be a lot better.”