All the team had to do was get rid of Sidney Crosby.
That, of course, is a lie. However, Pittsburgh's power play is indeed on the upswing, and the goals are coming without the Captain running the show.
In fact, Pittsburgh is without two of its best offensive weapons in Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang, both of whom are mainstays on the top PP unit and both of whom are out indefinitely with concussions.
So who exactly is keying the Pens' revived power play?
A revived Evgeni Malkin, for one. Malkin is calling to mind his 2008 self, when he asserted his game in the absence of Sidney Crosby and came within inches of winning the scoring title.
Along with long-awaited sniper James Neal and help from a few unlikely sources, Pittsburgh's man-advantage group is indeed on the upswing.
While any power play is a group, this group goes as Malkin goes. A closer look at his impact:
Better Without Crosby
Both 87 and 71 have missed time this season, but Malkin was present in each of Sid's eight games so far. There's no telling how the unit would look with Crosby being the lone and unquestioned "go-to guy."
Malkin, however, has appeared in 19 games without Crosby.
In those eight games with both scorers on the ice, Malkin has just three power play points, or .375 power play points per game (PP PPG), one goal and two assists.
With Crosby out, however, Geno takes over. He has 10 PP points in 19 games without Sid (3 PPG, 7 PPA) and is scoring .530 PP PPG over that span.
Malkin seems to benefit from being the straw that stirs the power play drink. Without Crosby to defer to, his play becomes more aggressive, his teammates less apt to overpass in an effort to get the puck to one of the team's two all-world playmakers.
The results are hard to argue:
Malkin and Crosby Both In: Eight games, 4-28 power play (14.3 percent).
Malkin and Crosby Both Out: Seven Games, 4-30 power play (13.3 percent).
Malkin Alone: 19 games, 20-86 power play (23.3 percent).
While the sample size of Malkin without Crosby is greater than anything else, it is also about 10 percent more effective than either other configuration.
Overall, the Penguins power play is clicking at 19.6 percent, 8th-best in the NHL. It's tough to project the averages over all 34 games, but the rate of 23.3 percent, in which Malkin runs the unit alone, would rank second overall.
Malkin's impact is obvious, but he's not alone. James Neal has been a huge part of the success, as his 10 power play goals lead the NHL and his 15 power play points are tied with Malkin and others for fifth in the NHL.
Chris Kunitz and Steve Sullivan have also played their parts, and the space created by Malkin and the team's willingness to run new configurations (Kunitz' power play marker against the Blackhawks Tuesday came off the rush) have all helped to improve the group's production.
Much of Pittsburgh's offense is now coming from the power play and in spite the missing guns, the reasons for the success are in the numbers.
If Crosby and Letang were available to run the second unit, it might be the most effective group in the NHL.
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