Mark Madden: Penguins power play set for reshaping
The acquisition of Alex Galchenyuk in exchange for Phil Kessel puts the Penguins’ No. 1 power play in line for a major realignment. More deals might be made, but all the components for the man-advantage unit are currently in place.
Kessel had 36 points on the PP last season. As much as anybody, Kessel served as the unit’s quarterback at the left half-wall. He never shot one-timers, as that spot usually dictates. He probably could have shot more, period. But his playmaking was exquisite.
But Galchenyuk is no slouch when his team is up a man. He collected 21 points on an Arizona power play that finished sixth-bottom in the NHL with a conversion percentage of 16.3. (The Penguins were fifth best at 24.6.)
Galchenyuk has a big shot. To not use him on the top power play would be to ignore one of his main talents.
But where does he fit?
Another question: Who serves as the net-front presence? Patric Hornqvist fits that job description best and has been a fixture. But Jake Guentzel has better touch, and got 40 goals last year despite netting just six on the power play.
But there’s no bad choice there.
Arranging everybody else is where the debate lies.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are definite. Duh.
It seems folly to put Crosby anywhere but down low. He’s the best in hockey history below the hash marks. That especially applies with the man advantage.
It’s either Kris Letang or Justin Schultz up top. Letang is better at zone entry, and that talent is at a bigger premium now that Kessel’s speed on the approach has been taken out of the mix. Schultz is slightly superior at puck distribution from the point.
A fairly obvious solution is to put Schultz up top, and install Letang at Kessel’s old spot. Letang is right-handed. He would shoot more often. Letang can’t dish the puck like Kessel, but having two defensemen on the power play (and Kessel’s absence) can’t help but cut down on the league-high 15 short-handed goals the Penguins conceded.
But where’s that leave Galchenyuk?
The Penguins reportedly want to finagle Galchenyuk onto the top unit.
Doing so means a left-handed shot has to play Kessel’s old spot on the left half-wall. Whoever does so would be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to shooting. No one-timers.
It’s a tough task but not impossible. Defenseman Ryan Whitney performed the job admirably when he was with the team from 2005-09.
Malkin could do it. He has the passing, vision and puck skills. But he wouldn’t want to.
Galchenyuk could wind up there by virtue of being the new boy. But that would largely neutralize his shot.
Coach Mike Sullivan (he of the four-year contract extension) could always cop out and put together two “equal” units. But that never works, and hasn’t in the past.
Everybody wants to play one of the half-walls. That’s where the points are. The puck rotates through those spots. Cheap helpers. Crosby would prefer to play on the right half-wall, but sacrifices numbers by playing down low. He’s a team guy.
I don’t know what Sullivan will decide.
But I’d use Schultz up top, Letang and Malkin on the half-walls, Crosby down low, and Guentzel as the net-front presence.
Allowing 15 short-handed goals was an absolute killer. Using two defensemen should solve that.
I wouldn’t be afraid to go back to Hornqvist, but Guentzel’s touch and production can’t be ignored.
If Malkin is to re-evaluate and reorganize after a sub-par season by his lofty standard, perhaps taking him out of his comfort zone on the power play would be a good idea. Or it might give him the boo-boo face.
If Galchenyuk gets his share of power-play time, he will get more points than Kessel. Galchenyuk is a lock to outproduce Kessel at even strength. Galchenyuk has never had more talent to work with. Kessel has never had less.