The Penguins’ power play is 5/19 for a 26.3 conversion rate, 10th best in the NHL.
I hate it.
Too early to judge? Perhaps. But I don’t want to hear about movement, flow and interchangeability. Never mind the Xs and Os. Forget about who wants to play where – but don’t forget about it too long, because it’s a big part of this conundrum.
Put all that gaga aside and use COMMON SENSE.
James Neal led the NHL in power-play goals last season with 18. He is a pure finisher of rare ability, and he started the season red-hot. Four goals in five games.
So why is Neal’s power-play spot a non-shooting position?
For a left-handed shot, the left point is a non-shooting position. Unless the pass comes from underneath, it’s difficult to one-time a shot. Neal is EXACTLY WHERE HE SHOULDN’T BE.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both want to play the right side. Specifically, the right circle. By way of compromise, Malkin mans the right circle while Crosby plays down low on the right. The opposition PK tilts that way, squeezing 71 and 87 into a tight area.
The coaches don’t want to tell Crosby or Malkin he can’t play where he wants. Ergo, the current alignment - which leaves Neal SCREWED.
I won’t pick sides. But I do want Neal in the high slot. I do want Chris Kunitz down low. I do want Kris Letang up top. (I really want Sergei Gonchar up top, but the Pens don’t have him. Yet.) That leaves the right circle and left point. That leaves Sid and Geno.
I honestly don’t care who goes where. But having one superstar on each side would prohibit a foe’s PK from cheating one way or the other. That’s good.
Crosby and Malkin would each be free from the other’s traffic, and Neal could shoot.
It would work. Work better than what the Penguins are doing, anyway.
UPDATE: Here's another alternate PP alignment: Paul Martin up top, Letang in the left circle, Malkin in the right circle, Crosby on the right post, Neal on the left post. Crosby and Neal rotate into the slot depending on which side the puck is on.
Martin shoots creampuffs, but he ran New Jersey's power play and is a classic puck-distributing point man. The absence of Kunitz hurts down low, but this formation puts a righty shot in the left circle and doesn't crowd Sid and Geno together quite as much.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.