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The Penguins PP could be well served from hitting the road to Ottawa

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After averaging only one goal per game through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins once lethal power play — which is 0 for 6 in the series — is officially in a funk, but hitting the road could serve them well.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

After failing to score on all five power play opportunities in a 2-1 Game 1 loss, the Penguins were unsuccessful on their only opportunity in a Game 2, at-times-painful-to-watch win — which evened the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators at one game a piece.

To close out Round 2 against the Capitals, the power play went 0 for 2 in the series-clinching Game 7 win and 0 for 3 in the Game 6 shellacking that sent the series back to Washington for Game 7.

In total, over the last four games — including three on home ice — a power play unit featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel has gone 0 for its last 11 on the man advantage. Not good enough. Actually, not even not good enough. Not good at all.

When it rains, it pours.

Patric Hornqvist, perpetual net-front presence for the first-unit power play, missed Game 2 due to an undisclosed injury.

Justin Schultz, who has been an anchor on the first unit's left point since the injury to Kris Letang, and currently leads the NHL in power play points by a defenseman in these playoffs, went awkwardly into the boards in the first period of Game 2 and did not return with an upper-body injury.

Obviously, Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel are the engine that drives the Penguins’ power play, but Schultz and Hornqvist have carved out distinct roles — that each respectfully excels in — and either player, on an individual level, would be missed. Missing both would really suck. Hopefully both will be ready for Game 3, but if not...

Next man up.

Luckily for the Penguins, a capable — even if unspectacular — replacement for each exists. Best-net-front-presence annual runner-up, Chris Kunitz, can be as, if not more, effective in chasing down loose pucks and separating player from puck. He no longer has the finishing ability in close to match Hornqvist’s goal production — though I feel a Chris Kunitz goal coming very soon — but, if need be, he can serve as an adequate replacement in the Hornqvist role.

After Schultz went down in the first period of Game 2, Olli Maatta served as his replacement for the sole Penguins power play. If Schultz were to miss any time, deadline acquisition Mark Streit is the most likely candidate to replace him — both in the lineup and on the power play. Streit, who hasn’t played since April 9, has spent some time quarterbacking power plays with his two most recent former teams — the Flyers and Islanders. But his career numbers on the power play don’t jump off the page, and fans should expect the same if he is inserted into the same role with the Penguins.

One area where the stats show Streit will fail to match Schultz is in the number of his attempted shots that get through from the point and on net — an often overlooked attribute of the best power play point men.

It’s a small sample size, but through virtually the same number of career playoff games (via Hockey-Reference.com):

Mark Streit — SThr Career Avg. (Playoffs) 40.4%

Justin Schultz — SThr Career Avg. (Playoffs) 57.1%

If you think 30 playoff games is too small of a sample size, over the last two seasons:

Mark Streit — SThr Avg. 46.6%

Since arriving in Pittsburgh:

Justin Schultz — SThr Avg. 54.9%

Just what the doctor ordered.

Despite their struggles, the Penguins’ 18.6% conversion rate is still nearly a 3.5% advantage over the next closest remaining team (NSH — 15.2%). This number pales in comparison to their regular season mark of 23.1%, which tied with the Capitals as the third-best in the league but is still not horrendous. In fact, it falls right in the middle of the pack in terms of regular season PP%. Hey, maybe teams put an added emphasis on special teams in the playoffs? Just a thought.

Oddly enough, the Penguins’ power play has been downright awful on home ice, going just 4 for 28 (14.3% — compared to 26.5% in the regular season). For context, if the Penguins’ power play finished the regular season at 14.3%:

  1. I would be writing about Penguins players participating in Worlds, not the ECF
  2. That number would be good for 28th in the NHL and only decimal points better than the Vancouver Canucks

So how do the Penguins still own a respectable PP%, despite being shut out on the power play for the last four games? As surprising as the answer may be, it’s pretty simple. Their power play is clicking on all cylinders on the road, going 4 for 15 and leading the playoffs at 26.7%.

On the other side, the Senators have been far worse on the man advantage this postseason, entering Game 3 at 13.4% (the lowest among remaining teams) and bringing with them an abysmal 9.1% home PP%, having converted just 2 of 22 opportunities.

The Senators have shown they are more than comfortable deploying the 1-3-1 trap any time in the game they aren’t playing from behind — look no further than late in the third period of Game 2 when the score was 0-0. They just aren’t a team built to play from behind. Their coach prefers to slow the game down and their power play has been very bad. This is all a recipe for disaster if the Penguins can score more than a single goal and get a lead before 13:05 into the third period.

On the PK, the Senators carry a very respectable 89.1% kill rate, and they’ve been even stronger on home ice at 90.5%. The next two games at the Canadian Tire Centre match the top-ranked home PK team against the top-ranked road PP team. Specials teams will be huge in deciding what the series will look like heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. Maybe two games away from PPG Paints Arena is just what the Penguins’ power play needs.