Pittsburgh-The Pittsburgh Penguins have found a successful defensive recipe on a nightly basis to be at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. They are 5th in the NHL in team defense, only surrendering 2.40 goals against per game. This is 15 spots better than they were ranked defensively at the end of last season, almost giving up 3 goals per game.
The Penguins are going to be an extremely tough “out” for any team that they face in this year’s playoffs. The Pens have a tough group of tenacious players that are willing to make
sacrifices to win hockey games. As much importance as defense and goaltending hold in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Pens still need to enhance their offensive output. They need their power play to progress and catch fire in the playoffs, or their post season run may not even go seven games.
On Sunday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers, the Pens registered a power play tally going 1-6 on the man advantage. Although one power play goal is an upgrade for the Pens, the Oilers are the worst team in hockey and have been at the bottom of the league over the past few seasons. This one power play goal cannot be observed as an improvement regarding the Pens power play struggles.
The Pens played a more formidable opponent Saturday afternoon at the CONSOL Energy Center against the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs held the Pens power play scoreless going 0-3 on the man advantage. The Pens couldn’t even light the lamp at even strength as they got shutout by Carey Price and the Habs 3-0. The Canadiens still seem to have the Pens number after ousting them in seven game series in last year’s playoffs.
The acquisition of Alex Kovalev was supposed to help boost a struggling Penguins power play. Although Kovalev has brought a level of calmness to the power play, no major improvement has taken place. When Kovalev was still playing for the Ottawa Senators, and the Pens had a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the power play constantly underachieved.
Over the past two seasons, no one can say that there has been a lack of talent engineering the Pens power play. Neither the players nor the coaching staff seem to be able to find a resolution to the power play woes. The coaching staff has tried everything. Crosby has been on the half wall quarterbacking the power play, and when that didn’t work, Malkin took over the quarterbacking duties. Despite all of the talent, nothing has seemed to work when it comes to the Pens power play.
The current Penguins roster is without Crosby and Malkin. Without two of the most talented players in hockey, the Pens have formulated a game plan where they try to keep their play simple. They want to get pucks deep behind their opponent’s defense, and keep the majority of the play in the offensive zone. The Pens attempt to apply a rigorous fore-checking game plan every time the puck drops. They don’t want to dangle or try anything fancy in the neutral zone. To sum it up, they want to get the puck deep, go retrieve the puck, and get as many pucks to the net as possible. This has been a constant formula for success under Dan Bylsma’s reign.
Why the Pens don’t apply these same methods to the power play is beyond comprehension. Making the pretty back door pass through four penalty killers has not worked for the Penguins on the power play since Mario Lemieux. Le Magnifique was a power play genius and we will never see the likes of that magic ever again. Likewise, constantly passing the puck around the perimeter is not going to boost the Pens power play percentage either.
No matter if Alex Kovalev is in the lineup, or Crosby comes back, the Pens power play needs to improve if they want to make a charge in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Special teams are crucial as to how far a team travels in the playoffs.
People keep trying to find the right blueprint for the Pens power play. Do they play an umbrella? Do they play an overload on the half wall? Do they play a box-in-one? Should Kovalev play on the half wall or on the point? Should Crosby play on the half wall or should Malkin? Should Jordan Staal play in front of the net or should Chris Kunitz?
Let me be the first to say that all of these questions are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. The key to the Pens power play success is quite simple. Quit standing still, find a shooting lane and get pucks to the net.
When things are not going well in hockey, the greatest hockey minds always say to simplify the game. Currently, the Penguins don’t have the pure hockey talent to be constructing magical back door plays on the man advantage. Even the best power plays in the NHL aren’t consistently creating tape-to-tape plays that result in highlight reel goals on Sportscenter’s top ten list.
The Penguins need to apply their 5-on-5 formula to their power play. They need to quit playing around with the puck at the opposing team’s blue line and get the puck deep. The Pens need to outnumber the opponent when racing in to retrieve possession of the puck. If the there are 2 defenders on the opponent’s penalty killing unit trying to ice the puck 200 feet, then the Pens need to have 3 players fore-checking to gain control of the puck. The Pens need to consistently have more players on the puck than the opponent when fore-checking on the power play. The Penguins tend to either give the puck up at the blue line while trying to enter the zone, or if they do dump the puck in, they all watch one fore-checker trying to retrieve the puck single handedly while everyone else waits around.
Once possession is eventually established, the puck needs to be passed back to the point or to the quarterback on the half wall. Instead of trying to make gorgeous tape-to-tape passes around the perimeter, whoever has control of the puck needs to find a shooting lane and get the puck to the net. Getting the biscuit to the net doesn’t mean that there has to be a wicked slap shot 100 mph. Kris Letang tries to rip these blistering slap shots and they miss the net more than 50% of the time. The puck just has to get to the paint.Everyone around the net needs to crash for a rebound. The power play goals need to be ugly, and they need to be earned. The Pens power play needs to outwork the other team’s penalty kill.
The best power play units in the league don’t stand still and pass the puck around the perimeter like the Penguins power play. Watch the Vancouver Canucks or the San Jose Sharks. Joe Thornton never rests against the half wall for an entire two minutes hoping something miraculous will happen. The most successful power plays in the league are in constant motion and bulldoze the puck to the net. Daniel Sedin doesn’t have 16 PP goals by standing on the hash marks outside of the faceoff circle. He drives the puck to the paint. These top units in the league score dirty power play goals that result from rebounds or tipping in shots put on net.
The Penguins coaching staff constantly stresses getting pucks to the net. Why they don’t stress this action to be performed on the man advantage? If the Pens don’t start finding ways to get pucks to the net they won’t score. Their power play failures will continue to antagonize us all.
People thought these power play issues were the doings of Mike Yeo last season when he was responsible for a malfunctioning power play unit. Yeo has taken an AHL job with the Houston Aeros, and there has been no improvement with Yeo out from behind the bench.
The point is that if the power play is going to triumph, there doesn’t have to be an extraordinary play drawn up by Bylsma, Tony Granato, or Todd Reirden. The power play will flourish if the Pens keep their man advantage game plan simple. When resolutions are too simple coaches try to always complicate them. Nothing else in the past has worked, and with the talent that the Pens currently have filling their roster on a nightly basis, the power play is not going to thrive with the way things are currently operating.
The Pens coaching staff needs to throw all of their power play ideas in the trash and tell their power play units to get pucks to the net and crash for rebounds. Instead of watching Kovalev try a fake shot pass, that gets picked off by a penalty killer, he needs to just let it rip!
Hopefully, the Penguins will eventually figure out their man advantage struggles. If they don’t resolve their power play misfortunes their playoff run is going to be very short lived. Let’s be blunt, defense and goaltending are the most vital keys to winning a Stanley Cup. However, the Pens can only depend on Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the defensive cast for so much. They need to find a way to light the lamp. Special teams are an essential ingredient to post season achievement. Right now the Pittsburgh Penguins are still searching for a way to prevail.