Pittsburgh Penguins Power Play Dissected

Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a terrible Power Play this season.  It all began in October when both Malkin and Crosby where out of the line-up for an extended amount of time.  Remember ranking 29th overall in the NHL, with a whopping 10.8% Power Play Conversion Rate in October 2021.

Well, the cavalry arrived, all Penguins got healthy and as of today, the Penguin Power Play ranks 11th overall in the NHL, with a 22.1% conversion rate.  I know, I know, not where we expected it to be, however, as the Beatles sang, “we’re getting better all the time”.

Since Dec17.2021 vs Buffalo, the Penguins have scored at least one Power Play goal in 13 of their last 18 games up to the Washington game Feb 01.2022.  That is a pretty good clip folks.

Pittsburgh’s Power Play today, is light years from where it began in October.  This got me wondering why?  Let’s Dissect it and find out, with what I call, “Power Play – Chalk Talk”.

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The Players

So, it stands to reason, when your stars are out of the line-up, the entire product will suffer.  This is exactly what happened to the Pens Power Play, more than any other facet of the “Penguins Team Game”, to date.  The dreadful stats were a direct result, and a byproduct, of Injuries and Covid player scratched from the line-up.

Getting #87, #58, #71 back into the line-up, dramatically changed the Power Play’s first unit.  The trickle-down-affect is the Second Unit becomes more powerful as well.

We have seen Head Coach Sullivan use numerous players on the Power Play this year, so the word, “Interchangeable” has become the theme for this team.

The line-up uncertainty gave “others”, the opportunity to show what they can do (#9 Rodrigues took advantage of this and is having a career year).  The experience the rest of the Penguins roster got because of this ice-time shuffle, is invaluable, and will come to fruition in the playoffs.  You can expect a long Playoff run, when the Pens Coach can put out a variety of players, no matter the situation, with confidence, the job will get done.

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The Penguins average 51.1% Faceoff Win Percentage, ranking 11th overall in the NHL.  As I have mentioned in previous articles, winning the Faceoff means, your team starts out with the puck.  This means you can control the play from the get-go or implement set plays.  This also means, that you don’t have to spend time chasing the puck.  In a Power Play situation, possession allows you to execute your set play off the draw, in the opponents’ zone, or allows you to set up and control the entire Power Play flow.

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The Umbrella

The Penguins set up the Power Play in the,” Umbrella” formation.  In the opponent’s zone, one defenseman, usually Letang#58, will quarterback the Power Play.  This means the puck flows through #58.

Now, you have Crosby #87, Malkin #71, Guentzel #59 and say Rust #17, rounding out the First Power Play unit.

Looking at the play from the Blueline into the opposition Goalie, with possession of the puck; the Penguins usually have Crosby #87 near the right goal post, Rust #17 providing grit, effective body positioning and creating havoc in front of the net, Guentzel #59 near the left goals post and Malkin #71 on the other point.

Now understand, these are all interchangeable parts, positions. There is a lot of changing, exchanging positions happening during this two-minute Power Play drill.

Also note, the Penguins are playing against, “The Box” formation.  Remember, “The Box”, when Penalty Killing (PK), keeps the opposition to the outside in general.  They expand and collapse as the play dictates.

The Penguins also are up against, “The Diamond” formation.  This PK set up also keeps the opposition to the outside, however, it allows defenders to keep a closer tab on the oppositions’ Wingers.  Again, expanding and collapsing, as the play dictates.

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Field Possession

The First thing to do on the Power Play, is to maintain puck possession in the opponents’ zone.  If you already have the puck, why dump it, then chase after it, hoping to recover it?

Gain the Zone, set up the players, start moving the puck around.  Remember, the puck always moves faster than skaters.

Read and React

This is becoming quite the overused hockey term over the last couple years. Quick, in game thought process, really means Hockey IQ.  If you have played the game for some time, you have played in every conceivable situation. With this intel and knowledge, simply, Read the Play, then Make a Play.

The Power Play looks a lot better when you have players who know how to make tape to tape passes.  When milliseconds matter, as well as fractions of an inch for a one-timer shot, actually knowing who is a left-handed shot or who is a right-handed shot, is hugely important.

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Make a Play

So, the most important thing, the objective of the Power Play, is to score a goal.  There are no extra points for style, flair, or pizzazz.  Just Score Baby.

Approximately 32% of goals scored in the NHL, are scored from the slot (area in front of the net).  So, it stands to reason, having bodies in there, screening the goalie, and putting pucks into that area, should be the focus.  This will allow for more Penguins to bang and crash, giving the Pens more opportunities to score goals.  Easier said than done apparently.

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Shoot as many pucks towards the net as possible.  It is common knowledge that the puck can only go in, when it is shot towards the net.  It can go straight in, be deflected or bounce in off of a body or skate.  High to Low Pass, Shoot or Low to High Pass Shoot, they all count, in general.

Great passes allow for the One-Timer shot.  Simply watch Backstrom #19 and Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals, work this play to perfection.

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Players working their way into the soft spots and using the Magic Triangle (the puck carrier has two passing options at all times, meaning puck support at all times), allows for creative plays to occur and a higher percentage scoring shot on net, from close range. Simply watch the Boston Bruins, Pasternack #88 side boards and Marchand #63 down low by the icing line and Bergeron #37 in the slot soft spots, work this play to perfection.  Or watch the First Power Play goal in the Washington game Feb01.22.  Guentzel to Malkin, was a thing of beauty.

My View from the Cheap Seats

It’s funny how the Penguins have increased their Power Play percentage since they got all got healthy and a few All-World players got back into the line-up.  Scoring on the Power Play with regularity is always a good sign of things to come.

You can tell the Core 3, (#87, #71, #58), have all played together for many years.  In the game against Columbus, Jan21.22, I witnessed them passing the puck 10 times in 10 seconds or less.  Tape to tape as well.  Amazing to watch.  They sure have a lot of confidence with the puck, however, it only really matters if you score, am I right.

Quote of the Day:

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily”

Epictetus – Greek Philosopher