The Penguins’ Powerplay Woes Continue: What’s the Solution?


The Pittsburgh Penguins are running out of time to fix their struggling power play. After a successful West Coast trip, which saw the Penguins collect five of an available six points, one thing remains constant, they can’t figure out their power play woes.

The popular belief, which is common in the hockey world, is that the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t shooting enough. There are obvious instances of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang pulling up and looking for a pretty pass as opposed to putting the puck on net.   However, there’s more to the story as simply shooting the puck is not the biggest concern nor solution to their issues. I know you’re already thinking that I’m crazy, but stay with me here.

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First and foremost, Head Coach Mike Johnston and Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet aren’t using the correct personnel. At this point, given the roster makeup of this team, Chris Kunitz has no place on the top power play. However, my argument isn’t to remove him in favor of David Perron like most have called for.

Patric Hornqvist is, and should be the right-handed shooter on that unit due to his net-front effectiveness. The change I make is pulling Kunitz off and replacing him with Derrick Pouliot on the right point. Pouliot has the ability to truly quarterback a power play and makes very sound decisions with the puck for his age.  Also, the Pittsburgh Penguins have given up the 3rd most shorthanded goals in the league with seven.

The only two teams with more are Toronto and Buffalo.

Their 5-v-4 save percentage ranks 29th in the league at 85.71, leading only the Edmonton Oilers in that regard.  So adding another defenseman to that unit may be a wise move.

My choice of defensemen on the top unit are Letang and Pouliot. As far as forwards, Crosby needs to be centering Malkin on the right and Hornqvist on the left. Crosby also needs to play low and be the set-up guy. I know he prefers to work the half-boards, but Malkin is much more of a threat in that area with his shooting ability. On the left side you have Letang in shooting position and Hornqvist as your net-front presence.

Now, let’s talk about that pesky shooting problem. Believe it or not, the amount of shots they’re taking isn’t the problem. See below.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently tied for 4th in the NHL in shots-for per 60 minutes when playing 5-v-4. They’re also ranked 4th for overall shots while on the power play.  This tells us that the issue doesn’t lie with the amount of shots they’re taking, but instead it’s the quality of shots. The quality of shots is affected partly by what I mentioned above with personnel changes, but mainly by the scheme and lack of movement on the power play. They aren’t creating shooting lanes because they’re playing as if their feet are cemented in place.

The next time there’s a Washington Capitals game on TV, watch Alex Ovechkin when the Caps are on a power play. The reason he finds himself open in the left circle so often is that it’s hard to account for his constant movement in the offensive zone. He plays the left point on that unit, but spends time below the circles and even behind the net. He also currently leads the league with twenty power play goals.

Before this recent trip to the West Coast, in which the Pittsburgh power play went 0-11, they found some success with Hornqvist being that moving piece. He was able to find the soft spot in the slot, which used to be James Neal territory, but his movement between the slot and the crease is where he did the most damage. He walked in unaccounted for and received the puck on a platter from Crosby who was posted up behind the goal line. Simple formula, right?

The overall consensus from the media is that the biggest hurdle is getting past what Crosby and Malkin prefer as their roles. If that’s the case, it’s time for the coaches to do what’s best for the team. I believe that those types of players should have some say in their line mates, schemes, etc. – however, it’s clear that the current power play isn’t working.

The time for tweaking and adjusting is over. The playoffs are basically secured at this point, and it’s time to start perfecting rather than toying.

The time for tweaking and adjusting is over. The playoffs are basically secured at this point, and it’s time to start perfecting rather than toying. Until the Pittsburgh Penguins make the proper adjustments, the powerplay will continue to struggle and their chance of attaining post-season success will continue to dwindle.

You simply can’t win in the playoffs without an effective power play.

As always, thanks for reading.  And of course, join me on Twitter at @Michael29Angelo!

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