You’ve already heard it numerous times. Mike Johnston, Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach, is on the hot seat and in danger of losing his job. How could he not be? Of course, the Penguins have rebounded with two victories, one of which being a solid performance against the Senators and the other against the Maple Leafs, which occurred despite the Pens’ performance rather than because of it.
In fact, our own Dan Kingerski covered this exact topic recently and I also touched on it. But, the elephant in the room isn’t Mike Johnston or whether or not he’s safe in his position. The elephant in the room is this power play and why a unit with so much talent can’t figure it out. With the importance of special teams in today’s NHL, why does it seem that aspect is being ignored and no one is talking about Rick Tocchet‘s safety?
Pittsburgh Penguins Lack the ‘Power’ in Power Play
You don’t have to be great with stats or digging up information to see where the Penguins stand with the man-advantage. It’s simple, they haven’t scored yet. They’re currently 0-for-17 through five games. Zero production in over 27-minutes with the man-advantage and at this point, they’re likely better off playing at even strength, as they create far more opportunities in that situation.
The common argument is that Sidney Crosby needs to come off the half-wall and play low on the power play. But, what a lot of folks aren’t realizing is that he already has. Crosby is now a rover of sorts on this unit and spends a large amount of time within ten feet of the goal crease. He’s a freelancer with a license to roam throughout the offensive zone. However, a new set of issues have presented themselves, as Crosby also travels the high slot, which means he’s frequently blocking Pittsburgh’s passing lanes and closing off Evgeni Malkin on the right circle.
Another myth is that the Penguins don’t shoot enough. They’re constantly criticized for trying to be too pretty and looking for the perfect play. And, while they’re definitely guilty of that quite frequently, they’re still 11th in the NHL for shots-for per 60 minutes while on the power play (all PP situations). So, they’re shooting but not converting. Why is that meaningful? Well, they’re shooting from the perimeter and failing to sustain pressure to create high-danger chances. They struggle with zone entry, pull up for a shot and forfeit possession. The puck is cleared and they’re back to struggling with zone entry. An ugly, ugly cycle.
10.8% of Pittsburgh’s faceoffs while on the power play have been in their defensive zone. That’s good for 27th in the league in that regard. Florida is the only team in the top-10 for PP% that has higher than 5-percent defensive zone faceoffs. If you’re consistently starting play in your own end, it’s a recipe for failure. Do I really need to point that out?
What’s the Answer to These Power Play Woes?
The ultimate question. An inquiry that seems impossible to answer because so many issues exist. Is their formation better? Yes. Is it ideal? No. And, is it true that Crosby refuses to play below the goal line, an area that he clearly excels at given previous samples? We’ve now reached the area in which coaching comes into play.
I’m not opposed to star players having some say in their role or their line mates. I am however opposed to a coach not stepping in when there’s an easy answer to an issue. I’m not saying that all of their issues are solved by placing Crosby below the goal line and tunneling offense through him but it’s a great start. When you’re forced to account for someone of his caliber deep in your territory, it forces the PK unit to spread out, which opens better shooting lanes.
The player producing the most shots-for per 60 minutes on the PP is Patric Hornqvist. But, the Pens are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to high danger scoring chances. Isn’t Hornqvist the net-front guy?
If Patric Hornqvist is shooting from outside dangerous areas, there’s an issue. If your top two shot generators on this unit aren’t Phil Kessel and Malkin, there’s an issue. It looks to me like that issue is that Tocchet can’t figure out how to manage this group.
I personally haven’t heard official rumblings of Tocchet’s position being in question. But, if there’s a coaching change for the Pittsburgh Penguins, my guess is that it starts with special teams before turning to the Head Coach. There are a lot of fans calling for Johnston’s firing but I personally believe that fixing special teams would be a better place to start. Tocchet was looked at as a coach that was put in place to reel in Steve Downie and teach grit and character to a team that lacked such qualities. But, the Pittsburgh Penguins have since moved on from that philosophy. How long will it be before they move on from Tocchet as well?