The Pittsburgh Penguins' power play has been under ample scrutiny throughout the season. Much of the inability to execute earlier in the season was attributed to Pitt's top-two point men, Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar, being injured and out of the lineup.
When Whitney returned to the ice on December 23 to man the blue line against the Lightning, a lot of fans expected more or less an instant impact. All hope was quickly squandered 60 minutes later when Tampa shutout the Pens 2-0.
That game aside, Ryan Whitney was not the solution. This was later solidified when he was shipped off to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi.
Right around that time Sergei Gonchar returned to the defensive corps. Gonchar, a notorious slow starter, was not expected to have an immediate impact. Maybe some of that was based on the disappointing return from Whitney.
Gonchar got his skates wet on February 14 against the Maple Leafs for the first time since going down with a shoulder injury during the preseason. The end result was a pointless effort in a demoralizing 6-2 loss. However, in the following game against the New York Islanders Gonch picked up an assist to launch the first point of a six-game point streak in which he accumulated two goals and five assists.
The Penguins' power play is currently ranked 22nd in the league at 17.1%. You wouldn't know that if you watched Pitt go 2-for-5 against the Devils last night or 1-for-2 against the Flames last week. However the game in between against the Rangers poses as the prime example of a power play still looking to find itself. In case you need a reminder, the Pens were 0-for-9 with the man advantage in that game, yet still managed to squeak out a 4-3 win.
Following his two assist effort in last night's 6-1 win over the Devils, Gonchar now has six goals and 17 points over 20 games. Five of those points have come on the power play. So is Gonchar really the solution on the power play? That's hard to say. In fact it's hard to pin point any specific reason for the recent success, unless you consider the idea that Dan Bylsma approached Mike Yeo, gently brushed him aside and calmly said, "I got this."
An efficient power play heading into the playoffs can't hurt. Yet when you think of how dangerous this team has been at even strength, it's scary to imagine what they can do with a loaded power play.