Penguins’ strategy for breaking power-play slump? Not practicing it
A day after hinting he has reached a breaking point with a leaky power play that has allowed a league-high 11 short-handed goals, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan used practice to address the problem in a unique and peculiar way.
By not practicing the power play at all.
It’s highly rare for the Penguins to go through an entire in-season practice and not drill special teams. Considering the circumstances — the night after another frustrating turnover led to another opponents’ short-handed goal — it was curious that Sullivan elected against 5-on-4 work Tuesday.
“Well, we usually work on it daily,” he said, “and it’s an important part of our team.”
Indeed, so why not work on it during a practice session at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township that happened to some 15 hours after the Penguins allowed a short-handed goal for the third time over their past five games?
Sullivan never fully addressed his precise reasoning. He instead spoke some obvious truths.
“It’s an aspect of our game that’s won a lot of games for us,” he said, “but certainly, I think we’re all well aware of the amount of goals that we have given up — and we can’t continue in that vein and continue to win consistently.”
The Penguins have lost four of their past six, including a 6-3 defeat Monday to the New Jersey Devils in which an Evgeni Malkin giveaway led to a Devils short-handed goal that represented arguably the most pivotal sequence of the game.
Sullivan on Tuesday discussed how a team’s power play, even if it’s not scoring, needs to at minimum build and hold momentum. Allowing the opponent to score, of course, has the opposite effect. That has happened all too often lately for the Penguins.
“We are all well aware of that,” Sullivan said, “and the coaches have had discussions (like), ‘What we are going to do with each unit, and where we are going to go?’ We have left nothing off the table. We have those conversations all the time on whether we stick with the top unit that’s been together for so long and has been so good, or do we think it’s time for change?”
The grouping of Malkin and Kris Letang on the points, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel on the half walls and Patric Hornqvist as the net-front presence has spent the better part of the past few seasons as the Penguins’ No. 1 power-play unit, although Justin Schultz had played in place of Letang before he suffered a broken leg in October.
Schultz’s return to the lineup likely is imminent, and perhaps that will help. After all, the Penguins tied for the fewest short-handed goals allowed in the league last season (three).
But are the coaches’ discussions Sullivan alluded to going to result in changes as soon Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning? Sullivan often has indicated he’s loath to tinker too much with what, on whole, has been a good thing.
The Penguins rank sixth in the NHL in power-play conversion percentage (24.8 percent) a year after they had the best statistic in that category in almost three decades. The Penguins have 13 power-play goals over their past 12 games.
Malkin said Sullivan wants to keep shifts short so players are not fatigued going the other way if the opponent gains possession.
“We give up so many scoring chances,” Malkin said. “If we play four forwards, we need to understand to (pursue) loose pucks, and all five guys need to backcheck, not just two guys or like one guy.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .