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Kevin Gorman: Penguins need a boost for power play

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, June 4, 2017, 10:03 p.m.
Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates a goal against the Predators in the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 3, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates a goal against the Predators in the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 3, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Just when Jake Guentzel was becoming the star of the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators pulled the plug on the Penguins' power play.

There is a connection to that development as Guentzel has scored in the first three games of this series.

The presence of the rookie winger, who leads the NHL playoffs with 13 goals, was a welcome sight for a power-play unit that has converted only once in 13 attempts against the Predators. And that was on a five-on-three in Game 1. To be fair, the Penguins also scored a goal just three seconds after a power play elapsed.

“That's just sometimes how hockey is,” said Guentzel, who had endured an eight-game goal drought. “You get those bounces, and it's going to go your way. You have to stay positive through these times and realize that once we get one, hopefully they keep coming.”

Perhaps it's telling the Penguins are counting on Guentzel to reignite their power play. He skated Sunday with the first-team unit in place of Patric Hornqvist, who was absent from practice.

It wasn't just power-play scoring that was missing from the 5-1 Game 3 loss Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. For the first time in their playoff careers, Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin finished without a shot on goal.

Malkin was at a loss afterward to explain the sudden power outage, given the Penguins boast the top four scorers in the playoffs.

“I have no idea,” Malkin said. “It's like first time in my career we can't score like that. So many chances, and we're not shooting the puck. We talk before the game, control puck, but we forget shooting. I know we need shots.”

Problem is, the Predators are pressuring the puck at the point and following it fervently with their skilled defensemen.

“I think they're committed to pressuring. That's the biggest thing,” Crosby said. “When one of their guys goes, all of them follow and they make sure they take away options in a hurry.

“So we've got to make quick reads and execute plays. If we do, there's open ice somewhere. It's just a matter of finding it when we get those plays.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan spent about a quarter of practice Sunday working with the power-play units.

“Obviously, we haven't had the success in this particular series,” Sullivan said, “but we believe that these guys are capable.”

The Penguins are converting on 21.7 percent (15 of 69) of power plays this postseason after ranking third in the NHL at 23.1 percent in the regular season.

But changes are necessary. One, obviously, is to shoot the puck. Sullivan is a believer that putting the puck on net creates scoring chances. The closer the puck is to the net, the more likely they are to score.

The Penguins should have seen this coming after going 0 for 7 on the man-advantage in the 4-1 Game 2 victory over the Predators.

“We have to be better,” Sullivan said. “We've got to execute. I don't think we've executed as well with what we're trying to accomplish against the type of penalty kill that we're up against.

The concern is that the power-play struggles will carry over to even-strength play, as it did in Game 3.

“My feeling, or at least my observation of coaching these guys, is when they have success on the power play, it helps their overall game, their five-on-five game,” Sullivan said. “It gives them confidence. They feel the puck.”

This is their second scoreless stretch of the playoffs. In the final two games against Washington and the first two against Ottawa, the Penguins went 0 for 11 on the power play.

The good news? Crosby scored power-play goals in each of the next three games as the Penguins went 5 of 9 with the advantage.

“It just comes down to execution, the way that they pressure,” Crosby said. “Against other penalty kills, sometimes you can feel pretty good and maybe not get a lot accomplished, but you're still working the puck around and you feel pretty good about it.

“But that's probably not going to be the case with these guys. We've got to be sure that when we see an opening, that we execute.”

The Penguins are hoping that Guentzel's golden touch can put some points back into their power play.

At least, that's the goal.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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