Pittsburgh Penguins: Mike Sullivan’s Impact Felt On The Power Play

The Pittsburgh Penguins are ten games into the Mike Sullivan regime and while results in the win/loss column are hit and miss, the results in the offensive end have been much improved since the ouster of Mike Johnston.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are just 4-5-1 under new head coach Mike Sullivan, but one thing has become clear under the new bench boss. He’s unleashed the hounds.

With Sullivan, the Pens have shifted from playing on their heels to producing the type of all-out offensive attack that suits the personnel on hand. Along with that shift in philosophy came a shift in leadership on the power play.

Initially, the marriage of Rick Tocchet, Jacques Martin, and Sullivan seemed like a very odd trio. Here was a guy with previous head coaching experience, yet he couldn’t pick either of his assistants? And general manager Jim Rutherford was retaining the man responsible for one of the worst power plays (27th in the league at the time of Sullivan’s hiring) in the NHL?

Despite those concerns, when Sullivan took over behind the bench he made it clear that he was going to handle power play duties instead of maligned assistant coach Rick Tocchet. This was a big gamble by the new coach, as a failure to ignite the man advantage for the Pittsburgh Penguins – a unit laden with four superstars – would fall directly on his head.

Through ten games the results have proven he is up to the task.

Part of the success comes from a very simple reason. They shoot more, and not just on the power play. You can see the rise of the Penguins’ offensive game over the past ten games via more than just analytics. The team passes the eye test as well.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have found the net on 9 of 33 power play opportunities since Sullivan took control of the unit, a number that equates to 27.2% conversion rate. That number would have them second in the NHL with only the Boston Bruins (28.6%) ahead of them.

If you go even further and remove the Pens first three games under Sullivan with the understanding that he was likely still attempting to communicate his system and implement it, the numbers are even more staggering.

In the past seven games the Penguins have converted on 9 of 23 power play chances. That’s 39.1% conversion rate. That number is completely unsustainable, but does go to show just how far the team’s offensive attack has come under their new coach.

Who knew that having four of the world’s best offensive hockey players do the things that made them special to begin with would actually work? That’s crazy, right? It was to Mike Johnston.

Now the Pittsburgh Penguins are seeing Sidney Crosby round into form, while Evgeni Malkin has showed no signs of slowing. Even if the team’s conversion rate drops to a more reasonable level of ~20%, that is still a huge improvement and would slot them right around the top ten in the NHL.

More than just scoring goals, however, a renewed threat on the power play provides the team the opportunity to wear out the opposition. This is an advantage that was not being fully utilized under Johnston.

“The last handful of games here, even when we don’t score on a given power play, it gives our team momentum,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game against the New York Islanders. “Our bench gets energy because they’re having success and they’re getting scoring chances.”

It’s really that simple.