The Pittsburgh Penguins have 15 even-strength five-on-five goals in the last 10 games. Somewhat remarkably, those same Penguins are 6-3-1 in those 10 games and have feasted on power play opportunities.
Evgeni Malkin buried the game’s only goal and game-winner last Saturday in the Penguins’ 1-0 win over the New York Rangers. On Sunday, Malkin scored the game-tying goal on the advantage in the 3-2 Penguins win.
Malkin scored the Penguins’ only goal in the 6-1 drubbing by the New Jersey Devils–you guessed it–on the power play. On the power play, Evan Rodrigues scored the third goal in the Penguins’ 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes (assisted by Malkin).
That’s four of the Penguins’ last eight goals in total.
Is that bad?
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“I don’t think so. Obviously, we rely on it because we have elite players that play on it, and it’s a great situation for a team to either give momentum or grab the lead,” Letang countered. “So, of course, we rely on it, and we take pride in being really good on it. But I don’t think it should affect our play five on five, that’s for sure.”
This was the debate you and I had when Phil Kessel was “transforming” the Penguins after their Stanley Cup wins. I said it’s bad. Many of you said–Shut up, leave
Britney Kessel alone!
Letang’s response made sense in real-time, but it reads differently than I initially interpreted it. Letang did, a matter of factly, say the Penguins rely on the power play–because it is so good.
Many of you also said it’s a goal, and it doesn’t matter how it’s scored. It must be noted before I go “Leroy Jenkins” on the argument teams don’t get power-play chances in the playoffs. Did you see the slog that was the 2021 playoffs? The Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders could have performed in the Sea World water-skiing show.
Where’s the secondary scoring? Jeff Carter has one goal in 14 games and just four in 2022. Kasperi Kapanen has had such a rough go that we made a specific point to praise his strong performance against Columbus. He hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 23 and has just two goals in 2022.
“It’s not a case of a lack of opportunities. And we track that stuff in detail. So if it were (lack of detail), this would be a very different conversation. So we’re confident that if we continue to get the looks that we’re getting, the opportunities, we will score goals,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “And so really, at the end of the day, all you can control is the process.”
Continuing the dry spells, Evan Rodrigues has one goal in his last 22 games. Brock McGinn, who has also been thrust into a top-nine role, has one goal in 20 games. Danton Heinen has two goals (both scored in one game) in his last 19 games.
From the Penguins’ current middle-six, excluding Evgeni Malkin, that’s a total of 10 goals in the last 22 games.
But the bigger picture isn’t the lack of scoring in the middle-six. For several years, dependence on the power play has permeated the healthy Pittsburgh Penguins roster. The battered and bruised lineup had a terrible power play and won 10 games in a row. The healthy lineup decidedly has not.
Letang gave a slight smirk–how could scoring be a bad thing? Sullivan gave a more nuanced rebuttal that makes sense.
“I don’t think so. I think, if anything, the power-play success fuels confidence in all those guys. Usually, when the power play has success, it bleeds into the five on 5v5. That’s been my experience,” Sullivan said.
How can a goal be a poison pill? When the power play takes the place of all of the other things teams must do to score goals, control games, and win.
Sullivan and Letang rejected the idea and made a good case.
It’s a good thing the Pittsburgh Penguins scoffed, but at some point, the secondary scoring has to kick in because the power play won’t click at 28% in the NHL playoffs.