Penguins Predictions: Who will take Phil Kessel’s spot on the power play?
To suggest Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had a love-hate relationship with his top power-play unit last season is no exaggeration.
Sullivan had genuine, intense respect and admiration for the amazing offensive feats players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are capable of.
“When they’re on, they’re good,” Sullivan said lovingly during the season. “They’re as good a power play as there is in the league. I believe in them. That’s why I tend to try to stick with them because I believe in them.”
Sullivan also seethed, smoke practically coming out his ears, as the Penguins allowed 15 goals while on the power play last year. He hated it.
“We have to take more responsibility for having a defensive conscience when guys are in trouble, and it doesn’t seem like we’re recognizing the danger,” Sullivan said. “And we don’t take care of the puck. We’re careless with some of the decisions we make with the puck.”
At least partially as a result of how often he was careless with the puck, Phil Kessel was shipped off to Arizona in June.
This presents Sullivan with a significant challenge. With Kessel manning the left half-wall, the Penguins had the best power play in the league over the past four seasons, compiling a 23.0% success rate.
Can he come up with a Kessel-free configuration that doesn’t skip a beat?
Who will spend the most time in Phil Kessel’s old spot on the left half-wall on the power play?
A. Jake Guentzel
When Sullivan talks about Guentzel’s 40-goal season that was hardly aided by any time on the power play, he almost sounds apologetic. A goal scorer that talented has to find his way onto the top unit eventually, right? Guentzel has been used at the net-front in the past, but a role as a facilitator and backdoor shooter in the left circle might fit his skill set nicely.
B. Kris Letang
When it comes to the 1-3-1 power play set-up that NHL teams use almost exclusively these days, conventional wisdom says the players manning the half-walls should be on their off wings so they can fire off one-timers on net. Due to the flex on his stick, Kessel never took one-timers. Letang will. Might be a weapon opponents will have a hard time defending. Justin Schultz can handle the point without a problem.
C. Alex Galchenyuk
The ideal spot for the left-handed Galchenyuk would be on the right half-wall, so he can use his dangerous shot more effectively, but that’s usually Malkin’s position. The Penguins aren’t going to want to relegate their newest winger to the second unit, so he might have to make do on the left side. It’s not like he couldn’t score from there. Remember the Ryan Whitney Play?
D. Evgeni Malkin
In the years before Kessel’s arrival, the left-handed Malkin often found himself on the left side on the power play. He was effective there for a couple of reasons. First, he’s every bit as talented and creative a playmaker as Kessel has been the last four years. Second, he’s able to beat goalies to the short side far more often than the average shooter.
D. Evgeni Malkin
In most cases, a veteran scorer like Malkin wouldn’t want to give up his preferred spot on the right half-wall, but he’s never been a one-trick pony whose only weapon was a one-timer. He can use his offensive creativity just as effectively on the left side. That leaves Galchenyuk as the trigger man on the right side, where he could easily form the same type of connection with Malkin that James Neal once did.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .