However, you can’t score if you don’t get the chance. Early in 2018-19, the Pens - by hook or crook - have seen special teams time down in a massive, massive way.
Through six games the Pens have only had 15 power play opportunities. That’s 30th in the league. Only the Edmonton Oilers (Tuesday’s opponent) have had less chances with 14 PP opportunities - and they’ve only played five games.
Last season at this time, through six games, Pittsburgh had a whopping 26 power play opportunities so it’s definitely noticeable to have lost out on 11 chances from this year compared to last.
To be fair and clear, it’s not as if the refs haven’t discriminated against the Pens or anything to that sort. They’re just calling way less penalties for whatever reason in the games. It’s important and also fair to point out that Pittsburgh has also only been short-handed 14 times so far this season (a league-low). Last year through six games they had been called for penalties a league-high 29 times.
So now the question is why have there only been 29 total power plays in the six games of 2018-19, when there was 55 such opportunities in 2017-18? It’s a question probably with just circumstantial answers. Last year the league was committed to try and cut down on slashing penalties but it didn’t seem to be severe enough to make up the discrepancy.
While it’s tough to know exactly WHY the officials aren’t giving a lot of power plays (for and against) the Pens, it is pretty clear that they are. And that lack of special teams time probably limits a high-powered team like Pittsburgh a lot. Sidney Crosby is without a goal. Patric Hornqvist has no goals and only one assist on the year. That’s probably not the case with 2 extra cracks per game at a power play. But, that’s life.
While a lot is made over the lack of ice time for Daniel Sprong of late, a bit quieter but Dominik Simon has also found himself stapled to the bench often as well. Here’s a visual of Simon’s game breakout from Yahoo:
That’s three straight games of sub-9 minutes for Simon. And only one total shot on goal in the last two games. Sprong’s struggles and lack of opportunities catch a lot more limelight and attention, but it’s probably worth watching going forward to see how Simon plays as well. For a guy who was entering the season with seemingly some good momentum, he’s been pretty much an afterthought and dropped to the 4th line.
On the flip side of the coin, Matt Cullen (you know, the guy who turns 42 next month) just played 15 minutes last game against Toronto and has played 9+ minutes in five of the six games - and as we just went over in the not above, Cullen is not playing because the Pens are needing to kill a lot of penalties.
This is presented without a slant, just an interesting observation of the way coach Mike Sullivan is divvying up the ice-time. It’s only October but he’s surely demonstrating a lot more comfortability and seeming trust to play more defensive-minded bottom six players like Cullen and Riley Sheahan a lot more than he is to tap Simon or Sprong on the shoulder for shifts.
Is that good? Is it bad? It’s probably too soon to say. But if you harbored any illusions the Pens would scratch Cullen at times or dish out a lot of opportunities to youngsters, the first six games clearly paints the opposite picture. This coaching staff, for better or worse, is going to ride Cullen all season long as a fairly important player on the team as long as he remains healthy and while that always seemed pretty obvious, the early game decisions have reinforced that in a big way.
We have another new podcast dropping for you tomorrow with our second former Penguin player. I’ve been really excited for this one and wanting it to happen and glad we recorded this one.
If you like hearing about the late ‘90s Pens; Ronnie Francis’s grace and charm, Jaromir Jagr bringing in seemingly every Czech who could stand on skates to Pittsburgh, Kevin Constantine screwing it all up then you’ll enjoy this one. Garrett also goes on a huge rant about the goalie situation too and it blew me away.
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