Power Outage: Pittsburgh Penguins' Powerplay Must Improve

Jeffery StonerCorrespondent IApril 21, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 21:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs  at the Wachovia Center on April 21, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hidden among all of the positives of a 3-1 series lead against the arch rival Philadelphia Flyers is a drawback for the Pittsburgh Penguins


It shouldn’t be hidden since it is the same bugaboo that has haunted the team all season. 


Despite all of the offensive creativity and talent, the power play is still only clicking at a 4-of-25 rate. 


While this doesn’t stand out as being particularly unproductive (it is only slightly under the NHL playoff average), it is still the key to the Penguins making a deep playoff run.


Point this out and you’ll hear three arguments from Penguins fans:


  1. The numbers are flawed due to the short power plays at the end of Game One.
  2. 25 chances are not enough to draw a fair conclusion
  3. We don’t need the power play, because we’re playing so well shorthanded and five-on-five.

Let’s examine these one at a time.



The Numbers Are Flawed Due to the Short Power Plays at the End of Game One


Sure, some of the power plays weren’t a full two minutes due to the time at which they occurred, and some were shortened due to penalty calls on the Pens.


Anyone with a working knowledge of NHL hockey realizes that not all power plays are created equally.


With that said, there is more to power play success than putting the puck behind the other team’s goaltender. 


Generating quality scoring chances helps build momentum, and holding the puck in the offense zone wears down the opponent over time. 


The Penguins are not generating many good chances, and they are not maintaining quality puck possession.


Even the successes have been sketchy. 


Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal that tied Game Two was a fortunate break as the puck hit Malkin and ricocheted into the net. 


Even Bill Guerin’s Game Two game-winner (on a two man advantage) was a shot that most NHL goalies are expected to stop. 


Fortunately, Marty Biron inexplicably left the nearside post making Guerin’s job much easier.


In Game Three, the Pens allowed a deflating shorthanded goal when Guerin and Sergei Gonchar both fell asleep on the play.  Factor this into the statistics, and the Penguins have only outscored the Flyers by three goals on their 25 advantages.




Twenty-Five Chances Are Not Enough To Draw a Fair Conclusion


This statement is 100 percent true, and if the regular season power play were effective, it might be easier to dismiss the playoff failures as being drawn from an unfairly small sample space. 


The problem is that the Penguins man advantage always will get better, it never does get better.


First, it was going to get better when Ryan Whitney returned from his injury.  Whitney has returned, played, and been traded to Anaheim since, and no noticeable improvement occurred with any of these steps. 


Then, it was going to get better when Sergei Gonchar returned from his injury. 


It did improve aesthetically, but not in substance.  Gonchar gives the team a true quarterback, and is very skilled at holding the puck in the zone. 


Although more shots are generated with number 55 on the blue line, his presence didn’t seem to add any production.


Next, it was going to improve with a coaching change. 


When Dan Bylsma took over the reigns from Michel Therrien, he installed an aggressiveness that did not exist on Therrien’s team.


This was going to filter its way to assistant coach Mike Yeo’s power play unit, and help the excitement level by avoiding cross-ice passed between stationary defensemen for 30 seconds at a time. 


Needless to say, despite all of the other improvements Bylsma brought, Yeo is still one of the least popular local names in the Steel City.


Finally, the power play was going to improve when the playoffs started. 


With all of this talent, how could it not match last year’s production? 


Well, the playoffs are here; maybe we have to wait until Round Two.



We Don’t Need the Power Play; We’re Playing Quite Well Shorthanded and Five-on-Five


Again, truefor now. 


The Penguins are winning faceoffs, and are matching the in-game physicality of the cross-state rival. 


Marc-Andre Fleury has outplayed his counterpart, Biron, which was probably expected. 


However, the Penguins have only scored two more five-on-five goals than the Flyers in the series (not including empty net situations). 


Switch the goalies, and this might well be a 3-1 Philadelphia lead.


Not to insult the Philadelphia club, but at the moment they are not a top NHL team.


They carried no momentum into the playoffs, and seemed flat after unexpectedly having to start on the road in Game One. 


If the Penguins do survive to play in Round Two, whoever the opponent is, will be playing better hockey than the Flyers were coming into this one.


The success the Flyers are having at killing these penalties has an effect on other parts of the game as well, mainly allowing Philadelphia to play more aggressively and with a more physical presence.


They do not fear the Pittsburgh power play


Anyone who has seen the series, or who has ever seen a Philadelphia Flyers’ game, understands that you don’t need to give the Orange and Black any extra excuse to be aggressive if you want your players healthy for the next game.


Historically, the two biggest keys to a deep playoff run are having a hot goalie and quality special teams. 


Marc-Andre Fleury has held up his end of the bargain, being stellar in each of the three Penguins wins. 


The penalty killing unit has been effective, successfully killing 19-of-22 Flyers power plays


However, for the Mellon Arena faithful to see any live hockey deep into May, the power play unit will have to contribute as the talent would indicate.


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