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Is there any hope for the Penguins’ power play?

This is as bad as that unit has ever looked.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Being critical of your team’s power play is some of the lowest hanging fruit you can pick at in the NHL.

Even the good power play units fail at least 75 percent of the time, and you are always looking for more shots, less passing, and more goals. For as good as the Penguins power play has been over the years it always seems like there is an expectation for more. Not only because of the nature of the role, but also because of the talent they put on the ice.

At different times the criticism has been warranted. This is one of those times, because through the first 14 games of the season that unit has been absolutely dreadful.

After Sunday’s 0-for-2 performance in Washington, the Penguins’ power play has failed to score on 24 consecutive attempts and is converting on just 8.4 percent of its chances for the season. That is the worst mark in the NHL, and the only power play unit converting on less than 10 percent of its chances so far this season and one of only three teams (expansion Seattle Kraken and the Arizona Coyotes, the worst team in the league, being the others) under 14 percent of the season. Overall, they are just 4-for-46 for the season, a number that is just as bad as it sounds.

It is so bad that if they scored on their next five attempts, they still only would only be 23rd in the NHL.

If they scored on the next 10? They would still only be eighth best in the NHL.

That is how much ground they have to make up.

Making matters worse, they are one of just seven teams in the league that has given up at least two shorthanded goals, including Sunday’s to put them behind in the first period.

Statistically, they are one of the worst power play units in terms of giving up shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes of power play time.

Whatever measure you want to look at, they are bad. It is a problem.

Not only because of what they give up, but because they have been completely incapable of generating anything. It should be a unit that can change a game and turn things around. It does change games, but not for the better.

Obviously the absences of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and at times Kris Letang have played a role in those issues. They are a big part of the power play and have been for more than 15 years, and if you take them away for an extended period of time there is going to be an impact there.

But it should still not be this bad. An NHL power play unit, even without superstars, should be able to score on more than 8 percent of its power play attempts.

If you look at the power play between 2018-19 and 2020-21 the Penguins still scored nearly six goals per 60 minutes of power play time when neither Crosby or Malkin was on the ice (oro, basically, when their second unit was on the ice).

This season without them? Only 3.5 goals per 60 minutes.

Is there any hope that things can dramatically improve here? Maybe.

Aside from the fact that Crosby and Letang are back and Malkin’s return is getting closer, there is some reason to believe that a lot of these early struggles are the result of some bad luck. While the Penguins are not scoring goals, they do generate a lot of shot attempts and scoring chances and are in the top-10 for both. That is a positive sign. They are also scoring on just 5 percent of their power play shots on goal, by far the worst mark in the league.

There is an element of bad luck to that, and it is not going to continue on that way forever. Eventually some of those shots are going to find their way in the back of the net.

Last season only two teams scored on less than 10 percent of their power play shots (Anaheim and Detroit) and nobody scored on less than 6 percent of their power play shots. Eventually those percentages regress to the mean a little.

That does not mean the Penguins can just sit back and be content with what they are doing and wait for that to happen and think there is nothing to improve on.

They still give up too many chances the other way. They still have a very flawed approach to their 5-on-3 situations (operating too far away from the net, not having a shoot-first mentality there). They could still do a better job generating chances in general.

Right now it is just a perfect storm of absences to key players, bad luck, and bad play all meeting at the same point to produce a laughably unproductive unit that is not only failing to take advantage of its opportunities, but is also taking away any momentum they should be building during games. It is ugly to watch. It needs to all change soon.