It is not exactly a secret so far this season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins power play stinks.
At least so far.
It is not scoring goals, it is giving up chances (and goals), and it just looks awful. No creativity, no movement, no shooting. It just has nothing. It is not only costing the team points, it is also preventing them from winning games in regulation which is giving their division rivals points of their own. Of all the issues plaguing the team so far this season, it is probably the most glaring and frustrating.
For one, it should not be this bad. A team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel at the top of the lineup SHOULD be able to put together a power play unit that is a consistent threat to score. But not only do the Penguins not score on the man-advantage, they have too many power plays where they are not even a threat to score. I am not really sure how else to explain it except to say that on too many occasions they simply do not look like the team that has an extra skater on the ice.
They get pressured easily, they do not enter the zone efficiently and when they do they spend more time passing around the perimeter and trying to force plays through the slot that have little chance of succeeding instead of just letting pucks fly at the net.
The top unit in particular seems to have three things consistently happen...
- Dumping the puck softly into the corner where no one retrieves it and the opposing penalty kill can easily clear.
- A soft pass into a sea of sticks in the middle of the ice that easily gets broken up.
- Blocked or missed shot that turns into another easy clearing effort or scoring chance for the opponents.
For the season they are only 5-for-36 on the power play, a conversion rate of just 14 percent. That mark is 22nd in the NHL.
They have also already given up two shorthanded goals, tied for the second most in the league.
But when you dig a little deeper than just the goals for and against you start to truly get a sense for how bad this unit has been.
The best indicator of future success on special teams is not a team’s conversion rate. It is the shots they generate. That is where things really get bad for this group. Every fan wants their team to shoot the puck more frequently, especially on the power play. But in this case it is not an exaggeration or an overreaction to say they are not shooting the puck enough.
Just consider the shot metrics for this group so far and where they stand among the rest of the league.
Total shot attempts for per 60 minutes of power play time: 71.9. That is 31st in the NHL.
Total shots on goal per 60 minutes of power play time: 37.9. That is also 31st in the NHL.
Expected goals for per 60 minutes of power play time: 4.3. You will be shocked to know that is also 31st in the NHL.
Scoring chances for per 60 minutes of power play time: 33.0. There is some slight improvement here where they climb to 30th in the NHL.
What makes these numbers even worse is what happens at the other end of the rink.
When the Penguins have the power play they are allowing 21.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes. That is 31st in the NHL.
They also allow 17.5 shots on goal. That is 31st in the NHL.
They allow 1.21 expected goals. That is 28th in the NHL.
They allow 10.6 scoring chances. That is 29th in the NHL.
There is a perception that the second unit has looked better than the first unit, but there is not much objective evidence to back that up.
For example: When the quartet of Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, and Letang are on the ice together the average 70 shot attempts per 60 minutes and 44 shots on goal. When none of them are on the ice they average 65 shot attempts and only 30 shots on goal per 60 minutes. Not that any of that is any reason to be excited. You expect your power play to perform better with the team’s best players on the ice, and both sets of numbers are objectively awful.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)
In either case they generate fewer shot attempts, shots and chances than any other power play in the league, while also giving up the most shot attempts, shots, and chances. You literally can not be any worse. It is a Picasso of incompetence.
Adding to the frustration is that while the Penguins power play is fumbling around, Patric Hornqvist already has five goals and three power play goals in Florida. To be fair, I had no issue with trading Hornqvist. I thought it was time, and he was a good candidate to move for a number of reasons if you were looking for a chance (if you want to quibble about the return in that trade, that is an entirely different discussion worth having). But the early results do just make the struggles on the power play look that much worse.
Everybody knows the issue. Too predictable. Not enough of a shooting mentality. Too sloppy. But nobody seems to have the solution on how to fix it. Until that happens, it is going to be something that limits the entire team.