It does not matter what sport we are talking about, I have one rule when it comes to the preseason — try not to overthink it or get too worked up about what happens. It is simply not always an accurate representation of what is to follow in the regular season.
Not only are these games that do not count — especially for players that already have roster spots secured — it is a time for teams to work on things and experiment with ideas that may not carry over to the regular season.
It can be a test period.
It can be a situation for players to simply get up to speed and prepare themselves for the games that do count.
Professional sports is full of players that excelled in training camp and preseason/spring training and then were never able to carry it over to the real games.
But the preseason struggles of the Pittsburgh Penguins power play are certainly going to get some attention (and they have!) given how much the unit struggled last year, the arrival of a new power play quarterback in Erik Karlsson, as well as the fact so much is going to be riding on the success or failure of that unit.
It would be putting it kindly to say that unit has struggled in the preseason, and that is not exactly putting anybody at ease after the disappointing showing that group had last season.
Despite having a trio of future Hall of Famers (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang) and a 40-goal scorer (Jake Guentzel) at their disposal, the Penguins’ power play was alarmingly mediocre in terms of results, finishing just 14th in the league during the 2022-23 season. It was one of the big reasons the Penguins fell short of the playoffs by just a single point.
For as mediocre as the actual results were, the unit consistently managed to look even worse than the numbers.
It is the second consecutive year that was the case for that unit.
There was never any rhythm or a shoot-first mentality, they struggled to enter the zone and get set up in big moments, and they just never found any consistency despite being about to put more talent on the ice than almost any other team in the league.
With the addition of Karlsson, one of the best power play quarterbacks of all time, that talent level is even higher. So too are the expectations.
But when that top unit — or most of the main components of the top unit — has been on the ice this preseason a lot of the same problems that existed last season still seem to be lurking, especially when it comes to generating shots and chances.
And none of the numbers from the preseason are encouraging.
Some of those numbers (and rankings) via Natural Stat Trick:
- Total shot attempts per 60 minutes: 87.9 (22nd)
- Shots on goal per 60 minutes: 42.8 (23rd)
- Scoring chances per 60 minutes: 35.6 (30th)
- High-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes: 23.7 (13th)
- Expected goals per 60 minutes: 6.28 (22nd)
- Goals scored per 60 minutes: 2.38 (29th)
Granted, not ALL of those minutes were from the top unit. It’s preseason hockey so there were a handful of games that were played by AHL guys and players waiting to get sent back down that can skew those results.
But when the top unit did play, it didn’t exactly look like a cohesive group that is ready to dominate.
That is to be expected to a certain point, and maybe even understandable given the context and the new addition (Karlsson) still adjusting to a new team. But it still stands out given how similar it all looked to what we watched for most of the 2022-23 season.
The Penguins’ power play is going to have to play a major role in this team’s offense this season because there simply is not a ton of scoring depth during 5-on-5 play (again). The Penguins’ top-two lines should continue to excel, but the approach of the new front office relating to the bottom-six seems completely focussed on building a group whose main purpose is to defend, not give up leads, and hold down the fort until the top players can get back on the ice.
There are going to be nights where the top-six is not going to score a lot of goals — or any goals — at even-strength.
When those nights happen, the power play is going to have to pick up the slack in a way it did not last season.
So how concerned are you about all of that?
As much as I try not to care about preseason, I think some concern is valid at this point simply because none of this is new. This is a group that has struggled for two years now and shouldn’t really get the benefit of the doubt for that very reason. It would be one thing if they had consistently been a top-five unit the past two years and were just working through some things in the preseason.
This just looks like more of the same.
Ultimately we will find out when the real games start next week, and there is still a good chance that a unit with now four future Hall of Famers can figure out a way to make it work. If anybody can come in and help make that happen you would think it would be the reigning Norris Trophy winner that is coming off of a season that saw him be the first 100-point defenseman in over 30 years. That is a big reason why he is here. If he can not help get it right, it might be a group that is simply beyond fixing at this point.