Starkey: 2 Pens power plays would be a blast
Ideally, the Penguins' top power-play unit would see Kris Letang playing the center point with deadly one-time options on either side — Jarome Iginla on his left and Evgeni Malkin on his right.
Here's the problem: Malkin isn't shooting the puck with much authority or accuracy these days. Have you seen him wind up for many of those vintage Malkin blasts this season?
Malkin's shooting percentage is a paltry 8.4 percent, and just last week he mentioned how his bum right shoulder is holding him back.
“I try to shoot, but I can't shoot hard,” he said. “If I can't shoot hard, it's tough to play.”
If that aspect of Malkin's game doesn't reappear by next week, even the immense skill he otherwise provides might not be enough to offset the risk of having him on the point in a playoff situation.
Aggressive penalty kills tend to take advantage of such things.
A heavily favored team can lose a series because of such things.
Which brings me to a bold idea coach Dan Bylsma tried (unsuccessfully) in last year's playoffs: He split Malkin and Sidney Crosby and formed two power plays.
It didn't work because the Penguins didn't have the elements in place to make for two sensible units. But it didn't work to maximum efficiency with Malkin and Crosby on the same unit, either, despite some gaudy numbers against the Flyers.
The Penguins were vulnerable to short-handed chances. Malkin ultimately was relegated to the left point, where his one-time shot was largely negated. Crosby was used on the point. It looked awful.
This year — assuming everyone is healthy — all the elements are in place for two units. Call them “1” and “1-A,” if you like, but it could be the way to go — and can you imagine trying to prepare for it?
Bylsma is going to have to make some incredibly tough decisions no matter what. Even if he were to start with Malkin, Crosby and Letang, somebody with serious pedigree would have to sit.
Who among James Neal (led NHL in power-play goals last season), Chris Kunitz (net-front presence extraordinaire, team's leading goal scorer) or Iginla would sit?
It doesn't sound like Iginla's going anywhere, nor should he. The Penguins need that right-handed howitzer on the left side.
“What he offers there, we don't have that in anybody else — that one-time shot,” Bylsma said Tuesday. “Him shooting the puck like that certainly makes for something you'd like to see. I mean, it's a blast from there.”
The theme of this season has become sacrifice — everyone doing what's best for the team, even if it means playing a less-than-accustomed-to role. Total ego subjugation.
One goal, right?
Thus it should be on the power play.
Here's my proposal: The “1” unit features Crosby on the right half-wall — and lots of other places — with Kunitz, Iginla, Letang and Paul Martin.
Yes, Paul Martin.
Last I checked, they'll be using one puck in the playoffs again, so it makes sense to have a simple-play guy like Martin out there among all that talent. Besides, in keeping with the Penguins' newfound responsible mindset, I like the idea of a second defenseman instead of a fourth forward.
Crosby would not present the wicked one-time option on Letang's right, but it's not like teams would ignore him and cheat toward Iginla. He's Sidney Crosby.
The “1-A” unit then becomes Malkin on his familiar and favored right half-boards with Neal roaming the slot, Brenden Morrow torturing goalies and either Letang or Matt Niskanen on one point with Pascal Dupuis on the other.
Dupuis isn't your typical forward back there. He is as defensively adept as they come, and he looked right at home with his big left-handed shot when he was asked to play there this season.
The Penguins have all the elements. No sane person would argue that. Question is, how do you mix them to achieve the desired reaction?
If Malkin doesn't regain his stroke, two units could be the answer. 1 and 1-A.
It'd be a blast.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.