Is Mike Rupp the Missing Piece on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Power Play?

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst INovember 24, 2009

TORONTO - OCTOBER 10:  Mike Rupp #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during a NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on October 10, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada .  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

"...Gonchar lugs the puck out of the Penguins' end, tries to run the gauntlet through center ice. He dumps the puck in around the wall for Sidney Crosby, Crosby to Malkin. Malkin works his way up the half wall, back to Gonchar. Sergei Gonchar steps in, fires wide.

"Crosby gathers the rebound behind the cage, under pressure and he's hit hard from behind, but makes the play to Billy Guerin. Guerin, wheels to the outside and back up to Eaton. Eaton to Gonchar, back to Eaton, they play catch at the blue line. Oh, and he's stripped of the puck and the Penguins have to retreat.

"Gonchar back to retrieve the puck from Fleury, passes up to Malkin. Malkin dances through a pair of defenders, passes to Crosby in the corner. Crosby, back to Malkin. Malkin fires! Rebound, oh and nobody's there to put it home, and the penalty expires..."

While the previous call is fictitious in nature, Penguin fans can hear Paul Steigerwald making the very calls all too well.

If you haven't guessed already, it depicts a standard Penguin power play, a man advantage that has nearly become a man-disadvantage.

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Earlier in the season, the Penguins went eight straight games without a power play goal (0-for-29 in that time, just for the record) and quite often handed opponents momentum after a failed five-on-four.

However, since power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar has returned to the lineup, the unit has improved dramatically and the results on the scoreboard have shown it.

Just kidding.

Even with Gonchar back in the lineup, the Penguins' power play has looked fantastic on paper without producing a whole lot on the ice. Imagine a baseball player coming to bat with a croquet mallet or someone trying to bowl with a tennis ball. The swing or stroke might look phenomenal, but the results would be horrific.

Why? Because something isn't right with that picture.

The same is true with the Penguin man advantage. While the unit does boast Gonchar and the two superstars in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they are firing blanks because there is a missing piece.

That's Mike Rupp.

When General Manager Ray Shero acquired Rupp from the New Jersey Devils during the off-season, most fans believed they added a tough, gritty, defensive forward that could fit right in on a fourth line.

Rupp has certainly lived up to all of those expectations, as he boasts four fighting majors and places fourth on the team in hits.

But he also has proved to be much more than just a fourth liner in Dan Bylsma's up-tempo forechecking game.

He's already tallied five goals on the season in 23 games, one short of his career high. It's a pretty safe bet to say that he'll not only pass his best mark of six, but eradicate that figure as well.

As you would imagine for a man with his gargantuan size (6-feet-5, 235 pounds), all of those goals have come within five feet of the cage. After all, isn't the objective always to "get to the net"?

Almost as a joke, Bylsma inserted fellow enforcer Eric Godard on the second power play unit in a 6-1 washout victory over the Montreal Canadiens. It was all fun and games, except for one small thing - it actually made sense.

With Godard in front of the cage, the second power play looked more dangerous in a minute of ice time than it had at any previous point in the season.

Although they did not produce a goal, Godard had a great chance off a juicy rebound and you'd almost have to believe that if a guy with a better goal-scoring pedigree was in his place, that puck would be having a tea party in the back of the net.

Cough. Cough.

I don't want to mention any names, but give me Mike Rupp for $500, please.

Just going back to last night's win over the Florida Panthers, the Penguins tied the game late. Why? Because Rupp pitched a tent, rolled out the sleeping bags and started up the grill in front of Panthers' netminder Tomas Vokoun.

His presence in front of the net allowed Malkin the time and space to make a play behind the net that eventually led to the goal.

Let me rip a page from the Detroit Red Wings' playbook for a second. For the past several years, Detroit's power play with Tomas Holmstrom wreaking havoc in front of the cage has been one of the best in the NHL, with an impossible 25.5 percent efficiency mark last season.

What does it do, apart from driving defensemen out of their minds? It draws their attention away from the more skilled players, examples Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

With more time and space, they can move around without being harassed constantly. Meanwhile, Holmstrom provides a screen, deflection, or rebound vacuum in front of the net.

But make no mistake. Mike Rupp is not Holmstrom. He doesn't need to be.

With Rupp's size and goal scoring ability from close range (yes, I never thought I'd be making that statement, either), he would be able to draw at least one defender to him at all times, allowing the Penguins to get away from the dreaded box penalty killing formation that they see so often.

He is certainly not half the shooter that Bill Guerin is, nor does he have the energy of Chris Kunitz. But his ability to draw defenders away from Crosby and Malkin just by sitting in front of the net might be a priceless asset to the first power play unit.

Will it work? Who knows for sure.

But one thing is for sure. We'll never know if Bylsma doesn't try it. How much worse can a powerplay operating at 14 percent get anyway?

Maybe FSN color commentator Bob Errey can help with some insight on Rupp's skill - "Those aren't the hands of a fourth-liner, those are the hands of a 50-goal scorer!"

Sounds good to me; let's give it a shot.


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