Minor Distracions - Power Outage

Jonathan Daniel

The NHL Pittsburgh Penguins currently dominate the league in special teams with both the #1 Power Play and the #1 Penalty Kill. The AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins? Not so much...

Up in the NHL we have come to expect the Pittsburgh Penguins to have one of the league's best Power Play units. They currently sit at 1st place with a 24.9 PP%, and in fact dominate in all facets of special teams play as they also possess the #1 Penalty Kill with a 87.8 PK%. They also happen to have allowed the 7th fewest Shorthanded Goals Against at 3, so their PP not only dominates offensively but also usually manages to limit the opponents chances. But their offense on the PK is practically non-existent, their 2 Shorthanded Goals For are tied for dead last at #25.

So knowing that they play the same exact system in the AHL, we would expect the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to show the same level of dominance. But unfortunately they have had a lot of issues with special teams. They currently possess the #29 Power Play at a 12.8 PP% and have allowed 5 Shorthanded Goals Against, which is tied for the 13th worst in the league. One would hope if they were playing that poorly offensively at least they would buckle down and excel defensively, but unfortunately that is not the case. They are a decent #9 in Penalty Kill with a 84.0 PK% and are actually tied for #2 with 7 Shorthanded Goals For.

A lot of that probably has to do with a general lack of offensive firepower. A number of their top scorers were called up to Pittsburgh at various times throughout the season, so a PP unit that was functioning at a fairly decent pace early in the year has since stagnated in the injury plagued lineup. As a team, the Baby Pens have just 128 Goals For this season, which is #17 in the AHL, not an awful lot of offense going on there. On the flip side, however, with just 111 Goals Against they are the top defensive team in the AHL, so at least they have that going for them.

Power Play Slump

The Baby Pens have not scored on the Power Play since January 18th, a game in which they went 1 for 3 after scoring on the 1st PP opportunity at just over a minute into the game. In the 6 games since then they have gone 0 for 34, which means their current streak stands at them failing to convert on the last 36 PP chances they received. That is just utterly dreadful and not good for a team that hopes to make a deep playoff run again this year.

Power Play Goals

Its not as if they don't have players that can't score on the PP. Tom Kostopoulos leads the team with 8 PP Goals as well as being the top per game at 0.19. Tom Kuhnhackl is next with 4 PP Goals, and at 0.10 per game he is #4 on the team. They also still have Scott Harrington with 3 PP goals who at 0.07 per game is the top scoring D and #6 overall. And his partner and top unit staple Brendan Mikkelson has 2 PP Goals and at 0.04 per game is the 3rd best scoring D and #9 overall.

They even have some reasonable options such as Wheeling Nailers call-up Zach Torquato who may only have 1 PP Goal but at 0.07 per game comes in at #5 on the team. And recently returned from injury and call-up to Pittsburgh is Andrew Ebbett who also has just 1 PP Goal, but at 0.06 per game is #7 on the team. The rest less desirable options fall in at #10 through #13 with 1 PP Goal each: Nick D`Agostino 0.04 per game is the #4 scoring D, and then Nick Drazenovic at .03 per game, and finally Dominik Uher and Paul Thompson at 0.03 per game.

What is missing, however, is Brian Gibbons with 3 PP Goals who at 0.13 per game is #3 on the team, and Chris Conner with 2 PP Goals who at 0.13 per game is #2 on the team. Both of them are currently in Pittsburgh, so losing two of their best offensive weapons is certain to take a toll on the PP success rate. It also doesn't help that Brian Dumoulin, who has 2 PP Goals at 0.05 per game which makes him the #2 scoring D and #8 overall, is now injured as well.

Power Play Points

Of course its not just guys that can score Goals, you also need people that can set up the play. Mikkelson leads the way with 15 Power Play Points, an impressive 0.33 per game. Just behind is Kostopoulos with 14 Power Play Points at 0.33 per game. Next would be Harrington with 9 PP Points and at 0.20 per game is the 3rd best D and #8 overall. Drazenovic has 8 PP Points which at 0.23 per game puts him at #6 on the team. And then the recently returned Ebbett has 5 PP Points and at 0.28 per game is #4 on the team.

The rest though are somewhat less ideal and more suited towards the 2nd unit. Uher has 4 PP Points, but at 0.10 per game is just #12 on the team. Just behind him is Kuhnhackl who also has 4 PP Points and at 0.10 per game is #13 on the team. Then we have D`Agostino with 3 PP Points who at 0.12 per game is the #4 D and #10 overall. Anton Zlobin, despite being a sniper, doesn't have any Goals but does have 3 PP Points which at 0.12 per game puts him at #11 on the team. And then the tragically dismal season of the once great Thompson who has 3 PP Points but at 0.08 per game is #15 on the team.

One somewhat promising option, however, is Wheeling Nailers call-up Barry Goers, who may have no Goals and just have 2 PP Points, but at 0.25 per game is the #2 D and #5 overall. Even Wheeling Nailers call-up Torquato has 2 PP Points, which at 0.13 per game is #9 on the team. But the rest of the options just haven't quite worked out on the PP. Both with 1 PP Point we have the #6 and #7 D and #17 and #18 overall: Simon Despres with 0.04 per game and Philip Samuelsson with 0.02 per game.

And of course we have two of the top PP forwards stuck up in Pittsburgh. Gibbons has 7 PP Points which at 0.30 per game puts him at #3 on the team. Conner is a lesser 3 PP Points but at 0.20 per game is still #7 on the team. They also recently recalled Harry Zolnierczyk who has no Goals but 2 PP Points, although at 0.05 per game is one of the worst on the team at #16. Then we have the injured Dumoulin who has 3 PP Points, but at just 0.08 per game is the #5 D and #14 overall.

How to Improve

So what can be done to improve the PP? The main thing is to get healthy and have a stable lineup again. If it were possible to get Gibbons and Conner back that would be a huge boost to not only the PP but just to the success of the team in general.

Another thing would be just time, the roster is getting healthy again and some big names have come back into the lineup, so they just need time to adjust to their roles and regain the chemistry they had earlier this season. Ebbett has just recently returned to the lineup after getting called up and then injured, it will take him some time to get back in the groove of things. Even Drazenovic missed a decent chunk of time due to injury, so having him back in the lineup as a steady presence will do a lot to boost their chances.

They also just fixed one negative aspect of the PP. They traded Thompson, who is past years was one of the Baby Pens top goal scorers but this year was struggling to fit in, for Spencer Machacek. Machecek had been playing for the Springfield Falcons and scored 2 PP Goals, which at 0.06 per game would slot him in at #7 just ahead of Ebbett, and 5 PP Points, which at 0.15 per game would be #9 just ahead of Torquato. It may not seem like much, but it is a big improvement over bottom of the barrel Thompson.

Find what works. Dumoulin has had a lot of trouble adjusting this year having started the season injured and missing out on Camp. So when he finally did return the season has already started and he had to slot in to the only open spot on the 3rd D pair and the 2nd PP unit. So his numbers are a bit lower than they could be partially due to skating much of the year with less capable linemates. They started the year with Mikkelson and Harrington as the point men on the top PP unit, but as Harrington started to go into a slump and Dumoulin improved coming back from injury they wound up swapping. Dumoulin proved to be quite serviceable as a PP QB and even found himself getting PP time when he was called up to Pittsburgh. But by the time he got a shot on the top unit they had lost some of their top scoring forwards, so despite generating some nice chances he didn't manage to put up many Points before getting hurt again. So is Harrington the best option for the top PP unit skating alongside his even strength partner Mikkelson? Or could the promising yet seldom used Goers and D`Agostino help bring a spark back to the PP? It may take some time, but eventually they will find just the right combination of what works on the PP and get back on track to improve their abysmal numbers.

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