The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play got a bit of an overhaul during practice Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
Mike Sullivan tweaked the makeup of both units, notably going with two defensemen on the points of the No. 1 group.
He moved Jeff Petry to the No. 1 power play, where he joined Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel. Bryan Rust shifted to the No. 2 unit, which included Jason Zucker, Jeff Carter, Rickard Rakell and P.O Joseph.
“We’re just trying to find combinations that are going to help us have success,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been running the same guys here for quite a while and trying to work through the process. We’re exploring some different options for us to see what might work, and we’ll continue to try that.
“But we have the versatility of other guys that we can utilize. We’re trying to put players in positions where they thrive and put players in positions to be successful. That’s part of the thought process. Sometimes, just tweaking things a little bit can be helpful when groups struggle, whether it’s a power play or a line or a defense pairing or whatever.
“Just make little tweaks that might jar the mindset or change the psychology of the group. Sometimes, that breeds some success.”
Despite possessing some elite offensive talents, particularly on the top unit, the Penguins’ power play is tied for 24th place in the league rankings, with a conversion rate of just 18.8 percent. It has scored 12 goals and allowed opposing penalty-killers to score two.
Although Sullivan did not go into detail about the specific reasons for the moves, at least two factors might have influenced the decision: Letang, a fixture on the left point, often passes up shot opportunities in favor of feeding the puck to a teammate, which allows penalty-killers to cheat on their coverage responsibilities, and the Penguins have given up a troubling number of shorthanded chances.
Petry has no qualms about sending pucks toward the net and, as a defenseman, should have more defensive awareness than the forward, usually Malkin, who had been operating on the point opposite him.
Petry, who had been a fixture on the second unit, said he does not expect the switch to have a significant impact on how he approaches his role.
“I want to distribute the puck to the flanks, when it’s there,” he said. “But at the same time, try to establish a shot early and see if that won’t bring their two (penalty-killing forwards) in a little bit, create some more space on the flanks.”
Similarly, Guentzel said that having Petry on the right point won’t compel him to make any meaningful changes to his power-play strategy.
“From my end, not much (is different),” he said. “(Petry) shoots the puck a little more. I just try to be in front of the net.”
Adjustments to the power play aside, during the practice, the Pittsburgh Penguins stuck with the personnel combinations they have been using of late:
Guentzel — Crosby — Rakell
Zucker — Malkin — Rust
McGinn — Carter — Heinen
Poehling — Blueger — Archibald
Pettersson — Letang
Joseph — Petry
Dumoulin — Rutta
(Ruhwedel — Kapanen)
The only player who didn’t participate in the workout was backup goalie Casey DeSmith, who Sullivan said is being evaluated for an unspecified upper-body injury. His absence, Sullivan said, was mostly “precautionary.”
Mike Chiasson, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ emergency backup goalie, filled in for DeSmith.