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Talking to Myself: Power Play Slide

In my Hindsight wrap-up, I closed on the power play being the team's biggest downfall. Here are some expanded thoughts on that.

A rare, post-Thaksgiving sight...
A rare, post-Thaksgiving sight...
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins were dominant on the power play early.  At the end of October, they were clicking at 39.5%.  Everyone knew that kind of success was unsustainable, but at the end of November, they were still at 31.6% for the season.  From there, things began to slide.  They finished the year at 19.3%, good for 10th overall, but from December on, they only managed to score on 14% of their chances.  The only team that had a worse conversion rate this season was Buffalo at 13.4%.  It's not exactly fair to compare everyone's full season numbers to what the Pens did in over 4 1/2 months, but I wanted to illustrate exactly how bad they were from December on.

While there were a variety of other factors involved, the power play was the single biggest factor in the Pens season going the way it did.  Sure, injuries were also huge, but the Pens have no control over those.  In the regular season, there were 45 times the Pens had at last 1 power play chance and failed to score.  Their record in those games was 14-21-10.  That's a lot of points left on the board.  Conversely, they went 27-5-1 when they did score a power play goal.  In the 4 games where they did not get a single power play chance (which is ridiculous; no team ever plays that clean of a game. Ever.), they went 2-1-1 with the wins coming against Edmonton and Buffalo.  In the playoffs, the power play went 2 for 4 in game 2, which they won.  In the four losses (all by 1 goal), they went 0 for 9.

It's not surprising that a team that had issues scoring would have their success tied to the productivity of their power play.  What is surprising is that after the power play fell off, they never got back to doing what made them so successful early.  It was like Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith got into a team meeting and Neuralyzed all of them.  They stopped shooting, and just as importantly, they stopped moving.  As Brian Metzer said more than a few times, they looked like a tabletop hockey team.  Each guy had their patch of ice, and they were loathe to leave it.  Moving all around the ice, particularly through the box, opens up shooting lanes.

Now of course, open shooting lanes don't mean much if the players on the ice aren't willing to take advantage of them.  Everyone seemed to know that was an issue.  Players mentioned it.  Coaches mentioned it.  The GM mentioned it in his end-of-the-season press conference.  Yet, it kept happening for 4+ months.  I know the coaches were in a tough spot, because you don't want to alienate your top guys, but if they keep going out there and not doing what they're supposed to...  they aren't leaving the coaches with much choice, are they?  Just continually sending them over the boards in the hopes they straighten themselves out didn't work out too well this year.  I'm not saying you bench the big boys on the power play (yet), but if they aren't following the script, you have to at least flip things and make the second unit the first for a while.

Much more of this, please. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

I'm not much of a strategist, but I'd like to see Crosby down low, working around the goal line, going in and out of the crease and behind the net.  I want Malkin bombing one-timers from the right side.  Kris Letang still catches flak about his in ability to quarterback a power play, but with 87-71, you don't need him to.  His elite offensive and skating ability are a huge asset to a power play, so you just need him to be a good complement to the two big boys.  Hornqvist is a no-brainer in the edge of the crease.  That leaves one more spot on the top unit, and based on the current roster, that would be either David Perron or Derrick Pouliot, depending on circumstance.

Another option would be something I proposed last summer after James Neal was dealt.  Run the same power play as before (it finished tied for 1st in the NHL at 23.4% in Neal's last season here), but put Malkin in Neal's roving gunner slot.  Malkin's entire game gets a boost when he's scoring goals, so maximize the chances of that.  Malkin's old point spot can be filled by Pouliot, or if he struggles, maybe Ian Cole.

Whatever set up they go with, there needs to be a lot more movement (of both the puck and players) and a lot less passing around the perimeter while everyone basically stands still.  Get back to outworking the penalty killers, stop forcing things, and good things should happen.