The Pittsburgh Penguins power play has been a tale of two units all season.
During the first half of the season it was a fairly dysfunctional mess, stuck near the bottom of the league and somehow looking even worse than the dismal numbers would have indicated for it. There was no flow, no structure, no shooting mentality, and no production from that unit. Given the talent at their disposal, it had been one of the most disappointing units on the team.
In the second half of the season, however, all of those trends reversed themselves and they steadily climbed the league’s leaderboard to finish the regular season with the fourth best success rate (23.7 percent) in the league. It did not always look pretty, but it was effective.
Just two games into their First Round matchup with the New York Islanders and we are back to seeing the frustrating unit that struggled through the first couple of months of the season.
Entering Game 3 on Thursday the Penguins are 0-for-5 on the power play in this series after converting on more than 25 percent of their attempts against the Islanders in the regular season matchups.
Even worse than the lack of a power play goal over the first two games is the way it has looked and the way it has not been able to take advantage of the moment.
On the first power play opportunity of the series the Penguins put on a clinic in power play zone time, winning the opening faceoff and never allowing the Islanders to clear the puck out of the zone. It did not result in a goal, but it looked great. Then after that? The next four opportunities have been progressively worse. Not only have they not scored or looked good, they have also missed a couple of opportunities to build on leads and put games away, helping to cost them the first game of the series.
The overall numbers paint a very clear picture as to the biggest problem — not enough pucks at the net or on the net, and not enough scoring chances.
It is only two games and five attempts, but the Penguins have attempted just 10 overall shot attempts in the series on the power play. Only four of them made been on goal. Most of those happened on that first opportunity in the first game of the series. No team so far in these playoffs has done a worse job generating scoring chances or expected goals on the power play.
It might be oversimplifying things here, but they have to take on more of a shoot-first mentality here. During 5-on-5 play they have actually been pretty good in that regard in this series, averaging more than 40 shots on goal over the first two games. In the first period of Game 2 in particular they were great at getting pucks at the net and generating chances. I hate to be a “shoot the puck” guy here, but come on. Only having four shots on goal in five power play attempts over two playoff games is not going to get you many goals.
An Evgeni Malkin return could certainly make an impact, but they also need Jared McCann to rediscover some of his power play magic. Remember when he went on that power play heater a couple of weeks and was seemingly scoring power play goals at will? He has just one power play goal in his past 17 games, including the playoffs, and zero in his past 10 games (also including the playoffs).
This has been an evenly played series over the first two games, with both teams scoring five goals, each team having a similar number of shots, each team controlling play for three periods, and each team winning a game, It has also been a series where power play opportunities have been few and far between. You are not going to get that many chances given the standard of officiating that we have seen so far. That makes it even more important to figure out a way to capitalize on one of those few chances that you do get. Especially when you have a chance to build on a lead. It could be the difference between a win and a loss, and in a series this close that could be the difference between going home for the offseason and starting a lengthy playoff run this season.