Three weeks ago today was Sunday October 13th. It was 20 power play chances ago for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets when Jake Guentzel scored, assisted by not-exactly-PP-specialists in Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson.
It’s also the last power play goal the Pens have managed.
Ironically, since then they’ve scored three goals while short-handed since that moment, but nothing while having the man advantage.
Part of the slump is doubtlessly personnel issues from a rough October. Evgeni Malkin only played four periods in the whole month then was out of the lineup. Malkin is a key cog in the power play group.
Other than that, the Pens have dealt with an identity issue with their power play. Phil Kessel is gone. Kessel was probably the PP’s most important player, he was in charge of a majority of carrying the puck through the neutral zone and the zone entries that come along with it. Kessel then set up shop on the left-side of the ice and the play largely ran through his decision making.
At times the Pens have bucked recent league trends of going with three forwards and two defensemen in a world now where most power plays feature four forwards and one defenseman. Pittsburgh has rotated between using Patric Hornqvist at the front of the net at times, but at times not. In that event, all three forwards tend to be left handed, which has made the setup look far different than last year.
Without Kessel and mostly Malkin, it’s no surprise that the team has struggled in this area, but 0-for-20 is becoming an issue. That’s nine and a half games of going between goals. A lack of power play scoring really stood out against Edmonton yesterday. The Pens had five cracks at the apple and did put 11 shots on goal. But none went in.
“We could have some more movement, open some things up,” defenseman Justin Schultz told the Trib after the game. “We were a little static there, I thought. But we had some chances. I thought a few of my shots from up top were there. We had some screens. It just wasn’t going in for us.”
Coach Mike Sullivan also gave a thoughtful answer in his media availability when asked about the power play woes. From his perspective, he believes a breakthrough is coming.
“The only thing that’s missing right now, is finish,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “If we weren’t generating scoring chances or we didn’t have zone time or we didn’t have a high success rate on the zone entries or we were losing faceoffs or things of that sort, then we could look at the structure and the process and the execution. But as I’ve said after a handful of the last few games, we feel as though a lot of that has been there. We’re getting a net-front guy. We’re getting shots to the net. We’ve had a couple of rebound opportunities. It’s not like we’re not generating opportunity. If we weren’t, it would a be a different narrative. As I’ve said to our players, we have to stay with it. We’ve got to hang in there. We can’t get discouraged. We’ve just got to get more determined. ”
Staying positive is probably the right outlook. With Malkin back and on the ice with Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang the puck isn’t going to stay out of the net forever.
Still, improvement and a turnaround on the power play will be a key aspect to watch moving forward. Pittsburgh goes on the road next week to play Boston — a team on a five-game winning streak and then NYI — a team on a nine-game winning streak. As the level of competition raises and going on the road, the Pens aren’t likely to find much success unless they’re helped along by what should be a team strength in their power play production.