The Pittsburgh Penguins are revered as one of the best teams in the NHL, but they have one glaring weakness. The Penguins power play is continuing to dip in the NHL power play rankings after starting the season as one of the hottest power play units in the league.
The Pens started the season strong capitalizing on more than 20% of their power play opportunities convincing everyone the PP struggles were over. As the stats tell us though, the Pens are right back to a similar success rate as they were last season.
The Pens finished with the 25th ranked PP last season scoring on 15.8% of their PP opportunities. Currently the power play is scoring at a 17.3% rate.
After an 0-4 effort against the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night, the Pens PP has slipped to out of the top-10 to the 16th ranked PP unit in the league. The difference in the game against Detroit was the Red Wings were perfect on the penalty kill and cashed in on one of their two power plays.
The Pens underachieving on the PP has been an on-going issue since Dan Bylsma has taken the throne as the Penguins head coach. No one will question the overall success Bylsma has accomplished in his short tenure, but he has never had a feared power play unit.
The Pens undoubtedly have two of the most skilled offensive talents in the world with Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Their lack of success collectively on the power play has always been a phenomenon no one has been able to untangle. The Penguins power play is much less effective with these two players on the ice simultaneously.
When Geno and Sid are on the same power play unit, no one wants to shoot the puck. Every Pens player on the man advantage stands around, passing the puck around the perimeter, waiting for the perfect play to develop. The Penguins are waiting for something to happen instead of making something happen.
Everything has been attempted. The Pens have run an overload off of the right half-wall with both Malkin and Crosby sharing quarterbacking duties, and this has not worked. The Pens have tried putting either Malkin or Crosby on the left boards and the other on the opposite side of the attacking zone during the power play, and this has not worked. No combination with Malkin and Crosby on the power play at the same time has ever shown success.
The Pens have had multiple coaches attempt to run their power play and have attempted every type of power play from the overload, to the umbrella, to the box-in-one, but none has produced PP goals with the Pens two superstars on the same unit. This has been a recurring theme.
The only option remaining is for Coach Bylsma is to separate his two superstars from the same power play unit. He may fear that a Crosby and Malkin separation may make the PP falter even worse, but he has explored all other avenues and a separation needs to take place.
Although the Penguins’ power play did not register a PP tally Tuesday night against the Red Wings, they did register a power play goal in their previous two contests against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders.
The screaming difference between a power play with Malkin and Crosby together is the Pens’ PP unit does not shoot the puck or simplify their actions. When the power play only has Malkin quarterbacking the unit without his sidekick Crosby, the Pens simplify their strategy and generate many more shots. These shots culminate in scoring chances.
Without Sid, the Penguins main objective on the man advantage is to feed Geno for one-timers inside the right circle. Everyone knows Geno is supposed to shoot and there is no question as to who needs the puck and what needs to happen. This causes pucks to be shot towards the net and generates rebounds. Rebounds make penalty killers scramble and open up passing lanes for pretty tap-in goals.
No one has been awarded more by Malkin being on the power play than James Neal. Neal and Johan Franzen are first in the NHL with 9 power play goals. Neal leading the league in PP goals is no coincidence considering that Neal has been Malkin’s even strength line mate since the beginning of the season. Malkin and Neal have chemistry. There have been debates about Crosby playing with Neal since some say Crosby is a better passer. It does not matter how well Sid can pass if he does not have chemistry with Neal. Right now Neal and Malkin carry the Penguins power play on their shoulders.
Crosby and Malkin both want to quarterback the power play on the right half-wall. If Bylsma splits them apart, they can both have what they want. There will be no hesitation by the other four Penguins on each PP unit as to which player should get the puck to make a play. They can split power play time evenly by a minute a piece.
With Crosby out this isn’t an issue, but watch the Pens power play numbers improve while Sidney Crosby is sidelined and Malkin is the centerpiece. Crosby is the best player in the world but he is not the best power play quarterback on the Penguins. Malkin has a wicked shot and better one-timer on the power play than Crosby. Malkin being the PP quarterback needs to take precedence over Crosby wanting to quarterback the power play.
Bylsma is not going to keep Crosby off the power play. This is not an option. Keeping Sid on the bench during the man advantage would cause turmoil throughout the team, the league and the city.
Instead of everyone trying to make Crosby and Malkin happy on the same power play unit, Bylsma has the opportunity to make them content by allowing each star to run their own power play unit. The Penguins power play will be able to operate without hesitation and will score more goals. Without Crosby, Malkin will be the key to the power play rising in the current PP rankings.