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Is playing Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on the penalty kill is worth the risk?

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They have already created a lot of scoring chances

Pittsburgh Penguins v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We have not seen it a lot right now, but one of the more intriguing moves Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has made in recent weeks has been giving Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel some time together on the penalty kill.

They were out there for a brief stretch again on Tuesday night in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers and wasted no time in doing what they have done pretty much every time they have been out there — created an odd-man rush and nearly scored a goal.

I don’t know how much of this we are going to end up seeing, but I like it. I like it a lot.

For one, I’m of the school of thought that one of the biggest flaws NHL coaches have is they do not play their superstars enough. I get that you want (and need) balance and depth, and I’m not asking for them to play 30 minutes per night or something outrageous like that, but I still think there are opportunities to get players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews and others on the ice more than they usually are. It obviously carries some risk, but the penalty kill is one of those opportunities.

For one, a player like Crosby is good enough defensively to successfully do it. He is an outstanding two-way player and he is almost always going to be the best player on the ice every time he goes over the boards. That is going to be true whether it is an even-strength situation, a shorthanded situation, or a power play situation. You know he is going to have a chance to outplay whoever the other team has on the ice.

The risk here, of course, is that once one of these guys takes a shot to the foot or leg it will no longer seem like a good idea. But I am not a fan of playing afraid, and that risk will exist in every situation every time they have to spend a second in the defensive zone.

The reward is that you not only have a better chance of stopping the opposing power play because you have better players on the ice, but you also have the opportunity to create more goals for yourself.

It has not yet translated to a goal for the duo, but the potential is clearly there.

Here is a look at the eight Penguins forwards this season they have logged at least 15 minutes of shorthanded ice-time this season (including Carl Hagelin, who now plays for the Los Angeles Kings) and how they have done in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances.

Penguins Forwards Shorthanded Performance

Player TOI Corsi Percentage Scoring Chance Percentage
Player TOI Corsi Percentage Scoring Chance Percentage
Riley Sheahan 91.09 12.2 12.6
Bryan Rust 82.40 18.1 23.4
Matt Cullen 65.45 21.5 26.6
Zach Aston-Reese 54.43 10.8 10.5
Carl Hagelin 39.07 25.1 21.1
Derek Grant 26.33 13.1 19.1
Sidney Crosby 18.07 24.2 35.7
Jake Guentzel 18.04 24.1 37.5

It is, admittedly, a small sample size. But look at the results in that small sample size. Creating 35 percent of the scoring chances in a shorthanded situation is an insane number, and if you dig down to “high-danger chances” they are both over 50 percent.

The only forwards in the league that have a higher number (again, in 15 minutes of ice-time at a minimum) are Teuvo Teravainen (61.5 percent in 19 minutes), Timo Meier (47 percent in 26 minutes), and Filip Forsberg (39 percent in 39 minutes).

The only other forwards that are over 30 percent are Sebastian Aho, Reilly Smith, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What do they all have in common? They are all skill players. There is a benefit here, even if it carries some amount of risk.

Not sure how much more we are going to see it, but as a change of pace on the penalty kill or when the Penguins are looking for a spark it is definitely a deployment that could help change a game.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)