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Penguins’ power play lacking identity, practice in early going

There may be a reason why the Pittsburgh power play looked so bad in going 0-for-9 last night against Detroit

NHL: SEP 27 Red Wings at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins had all five of their top power play players in place last night, but from how it looked on the ice, you probably couldn’t guess it.

The Pens failed to score a goal in nine power play chances against a depleted Detroit Red Wings team. That amounted to a total of 16:47 worth of time, nearly a full period.

Worse than that, they not only failed to score, the Pens failed to threaten very often. Natural Stat Trick recorded just four high danger scoring chances. That was matched by the Red Wings having four HD scoring chances, one of which they actually scored on.

It didn’t require digging that deep to reveal a very bad effort, but the further one looks the uglier the Pittsburgh power play becomes.

After the game, coach Mike Sullivan addressed the troubles extensively, and cited a lack of practice as a potential contributing factor.

“We’d like [our power play] to be better,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “But having said that, we really haven’t spent a lot of time on it. [Tuesday’s morning skate] was really the first opportunity we had with them to get them some reps. We just simply haven’t spent a lot of time on it. We’ve got a ways to go there, but we know that. We got a lot of reps tonight on the power plays. There [were] some moments where [the power play] had it moving pretty good. There were others where it was a struggle.”

Sullivan capped the thought by stating the obvious.

“We’ve got a ways to go.”

Not having practice is a valid reason that the group would look, quite frankly, like they weren’t capable of rolling out for an NHL game. Other penalty killers cited the same thing after the game — and the PK group went an equally bad 0-for-2 at preventing Detroit from scoring.

Considering most of the top players last night had appeared in three days worth of training camp and then had two days off, a lot of rust showed. It makes sense.

The identity of the power play remains elusive and something that associate coach Todd Reirden will need to develop in a hurry.

When the Penguins had Patric Hornqvist, they had an identity. They knew exactly where he was going (.2 inches in front of the goalie) and how the power play would look because of it. Same with Phil Kessel, controlling the tempo and making plays from the left wall. That put a stamp on the power play and shaped how it would run.

Now the power play is...? It is..? Well, it’s tough to say exactly what it is or what they are trying to accomplish. It is no longer a 1-3-1 setup, it’s not an umbrella or demonstrating any coordination of getting pucks or bodies to the net. It doesn’t seek to feed any particular player or get a shot from a certain area of the ice.

If the Pens can even stay onside and get in the zone and get their personnel set up (a big hurdle with neutral zone entries being as much of a problem as anything was last night), then what are they doing?

The answer remains unknown. The power play usually revolves around Kris Letang and either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby passing around the perimeter, with Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel floating seemingly indiscriminately somewhere in between the slot to the front of the net. Last night at times both Crosby and Malkin were high and low on the right side, neither seeming to have a set spot and neither able to create much offense, save a Crosby shot off the outside post

The one other consideration about the Penguin power play is the extreme peaks and valleys it is known to have. It will look like a group that couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat in the middle of the ocean for stretches, only to then score in bunches after converting beautiful skilled plays into goals. That can be the curse of living through such high talent to get to the blessing of watching it pay off with results.

Also, it bears actively remembering that even the best power plays will fail to score 70+% of the time. It’s not an easy or particularly regular occurrence.

“We won’t get discouraged,” Sullivan said. “We’ll go back to practice (today). We’ll continue to work at our gameplan. We’ll slowly implement some of the team concept. We’ll get some special teams work in here coming up this week that hopefully will give us a better opportunity to take advantage of a night like tonight when we virtually play a whole period on the power play.”

After a night like last night, it’s easy to see a lot of special teams work for the power play and the penalty kill is necessary. As Sullivan touched on, it is a slow process of installation to gear up for a very long season. The Penguins were the furthest thing from sharp last night, but it is also important to remember in the big scheme of things that performance means almost nothing.

One major item to watch for will be just what kind of focus and keys to a power play are set and emphasized for a group that .

“What I said to the players after the game is, let’s not get discouraged,” Sullivan said. “But if there’s any takeaway, the takeaway is we got a lot of work to do.”

That time to work begins now for the Pens.