Rossi: New eyes needed to fix power play

| Sunday, April 3, 2011

General manager Ray Shero revamped his defense last summer. He should spend this one reconfiguring a power play that before Saturday was 156 for 939 — 16.6 percent — in the past three seasons.

It's time to add a power-play specialist as an assistant coach or consultant. Heck, the Penguins already employ a power-skating consultant. Is the power play any less important?

It certainly couldn't be any less productive, having managed only 156 goals since the end of the 2007-08 season, when it produced nearly half that total (77).

That is an inexcusable statistical trend, even if injuries to centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have hurt the power play this season; even if power-play quarterback Sergei Gonchar is now in Ottawa; even if, well, whatever.

The Minnesota Wild haven't, don't and won't have Crosby, Malkin or Gonchar but have scored 176 power-play goals in the past three seasons.

Clearly, the problem with the Penguins' power play is the recipe — and they need a new cook, because the ingredients for next season are plentiful.

Start with the return of Crosby and Malkin from injuries. Add the continued progression toward superstardom of defenseman Kris Letang. Mix in enticing net-front presence in forwards James Neal and Chris Kunitz, an emerging sharp-shooter in Tyler Kennedy and puck-moving defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen.

Somewhere out there is a hockey mind sharp enough to take those players and design a power-play scheme that could scare the Penguins' opponents instead of their fans.

Coach Dan Bylsma took control of the power play this season after the offseason departure of assistant Mike Yeo. Neither Bylsma nor Yeo is/was the problem with the power play. Neither is the problem too much talent on the ice or, as has been evident in the struggles without Crosby and Malkin, not enough talent.

The problem is something nobody within the Penguins organization can see. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a problem.

This summer is the time to add another set of eyes.

NHL Insider

As a voting member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, Trib Penguins reporter Rob Rossi provides a weekly look at how he sees the races for these year-end awards:

Hart (MVP)

1. Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins)

2. Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks)

3. Corey Perry (Ducks)

Norris (Defenseman)

1. Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings)

2. Keith Yandle (Coyotes)

3. Christian Ehrhoff (Canucks)

Selke (Defensive forward)

1. Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks)

2. Ryan Kesler (Canucks)

3. Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings)

Calder (Rookie)

1. Logan Couture (Sharks)

2. Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes)

3. Sergei Bobrovsky (Flyers)

Q&A with Simon Gagne (Lightning left wing)

RR: Do you see any of the Penguins in your team, given the shared inability to ice a regular lineup?

SG: You learn from giving a chance to other players. You find other guys who are able to do a little more than they're used to, but those things might happen in the playoffs — you might lose key guys, and you need to learn to play without them. If you don't go through that situation in the regular season and it happens in the playoffs, you might go out quick.

RR: Your team has some key contributors without playoff experience, so what is your role as a veteran?

SG: When the situations get a little harder, maybe losing a couple games, you feel you need to do something — maybe stand up and talk to the team. You're there just in case those guys want to know something. Guys ask me about the beard, you know.

RR: What do they ask about the playoff beard?

SG: When they have to shave, when they have to start growing it, stuff like that. Just a question like that, you have to be there to answer those questions because, when the real games start to happen, your job (as a veteran) is to be there and make sure they're not too nervous.

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