The Penguins’ power play ranked fifth in the NHL last season, converting 19.7 percent of the time. That’s up from 25th (15.8 percent) the year before. The Pens scored 57 power-play goals last season, up from 49.
Those are impressive numbers, and a spectacular jump.
But the Pens’ PP will (hopefully) have to deal with Sidney Crosby as a constant presence this season. He played just 22 games last campaign.
Crosby is, by far, hockey’s best 5-on-5 player. He creates off the rush better than anyone. He attacks North-South better than anyone. Crosby is an irresistible force, dynamic beyond description.
But the power play is about patience. East-West. It doesn’t serve one of Crosby’s strongest suits, namely executing precisely in the midst of turmoil. On the PP, the other team sets up in a largely stationary box. You have to pick the lock.
Crosby doesn’t suck on the power play. But he’s not great at it. He strongly prefers to play the right circle, as does Evgeni Malkin.
When you combine the addition of the man-advantage enigma that is Crosby and the subtraction of PP specialist Steve Sullivan, it’s clear the Penguins’ power play is far from a lock to sparkle.
Here’s my alignment: Malkin up top, Kris Letang in the left circle, Crosby in the right circle, James Neal in the high slot, Chris Kunitz down low. If Eric Tangradi makes the team, give him some work in front. Make that his niche. Power-play time should be determined by power-play ability. Tangradi’s got it.
Malkin is better than Crosby in the right circle. But Malkin is needed up top, admittedly leaving the Pens vulnerable to short-handed counterattacks.
The least replaceable man on the PP is Neal: He led the NHL with 18 man-advantage goals last season. You’ve got to have that triggerman.
Crosby seems to annually significantly better himself at something. Here’s hoping he picks the power play this year. Some advice to the Pens’ coaches: Attack off the rush on the PP. You’re still up a man, and that would be playing to one of Crosby’s major strengths.