Grove: Pens Haven’t Scored A Power Play Goal In 10 Games, Should We Worry?

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Photo credit © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
By 93.7 The Fan

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) -- The Penguins are synonymous with power play goals. Since they entered the NHL in 1967, they’ve scored more power play goals than any other team, and they’re No. 1 by a mile.

But they’ve made a different kind of history with the power play this season as they prepare to host Chicago tonight. For the first time in its history, Pittsburgh has gone 10 consecutive games without a power play goal. The Penguins’ drought sits at 23 straight chances missed, and the power play has been a notable culprit in the five games they’ve lost during this stretch.

Evgeni Malkin missed the first seven games of this drought but hasn’t been able to make a difference yet in three games back. Injuries to Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist now provide more challenges, especially given Letang’s prominent role in the success of that unit through the years.

It would be tempting for coach Mike Sullivan to view this as the anomaly it is and simply wait for the Penguins to re-establish their usual proficiency because, you know, that must be right around the corner. Right?

Probably, but he needs to press for results nevertheless because the power play is displaying some troubling tendencies that could weigh the team down if they linger for much longer.

  • Let’s start at the beginning. The Penguins have earned the fourth-fewest chances in the league through 16 games; they had the 11th-fewest chances last season. Given the way Pittsburgh has pressured the puck in the offensive zone and renewed its commitment to back-checking, this number feels temporary. But the Penguins might help themselves by taking more pucks and bodies to net, which they were doing in the third period of their victory in Brooklyn Thursday.
  • They need more focused efforts on the power play early in games. The Penguins are 1-for-13 with the man-advantage in the first period, which is one reason they’ve allowed the first goal in nine of the last 11 games. They need to find a different level of urgency when they get early power plays.
  • Zone entries have been inconsistent and clearly there needs to be more efficiency in this facet of their game. This is a place they miss Phil Kessel, and Letang’s absence certainly is felt here as well now.
  • This is where Malkin must make an impact. He’s scored a higher percentage of his career goals on the power play than even Mario, and he needs to be more selfish and start taking more shots when he has a chance. Through four-plus games, he’s shooting it about as much as he did last year, which wasn’t enough.
  • Sidney Crosby’s shot rate on the power has dipped this season from last, so he, too, needs to find a way to get more pucks to the net. As a team, the Penguins have averaged about 1.6 shots per chance during this drought, which is a fairly typical number. But when pucks aren’t going in, it’s a great chance to simplify things, launch more shots, perhaps get some puck luck (which has been missing to a degree) and then benefit from what that does to confidence levels.
  • Is Alex Galchenyuk going to help here? He certainly needs to, given his elevation to the first unit Thursday with Letang out. He seems likely to stay there, and he’s got to start making a difference.
  • One thing to like about Justin Schultz on the power play is that he isn’t shy about shooting it, but I believe this is an opportunity to see what Juuso Riikola can do with a bit more power play time. He has an absolute bomb of a shot, though he would need some time with the first unit to grab needed experience with how those players interact with the man-advantage.

Maybe tonight is the time for Sullivan to throw his second unit out there on the first power play chance and see what happens. They might fail to score, but he might succeed in sending a message. Ignoring empty-net goals, eight of the Penguins’ 16 games this season have been one-goal games. Even a moderately-successful power play can make a big difference when so many games are so closely contested.

It would be a mistake right now to simply wait for the drought’s inevitable end and hope that signals a return to power play dominance.

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