The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of offensive fire power on their top power play, but they have been lacking defensive awareness all year long. It is time to change things up.
Top Power Play When Healthy
The Penguins have used a variety of combinations during the last 5 games without Evgeni Malkin, but the unit has been the same with him in the lineup. Kris Letang runs the point, while Malkin and Phil Kessel patrol the half walls. Sidney Crosby plays down low with Patric Hornqvist standing firm in the goaltender’s kitchen. All five players have the ability to score at a moment’s notice. However, they are prone to overthink plays and make ill-advised passes. This has led to a lot (12) of shorthanded goals. I would love to see the team change things up and have a more balanced two-line approach to the power play.
Author’s Note: The below projections are based on the return of Evgeni Malkin and Justin Shultz, both of whom are projected back in the coming days.
New Power Play 1
Juuso Riikola has had troubles getting pucks to the back of the net, but the two goals he has scored has come via the power play. He is a guy that could benefit a lot from the space generated by the talented forwards on the power play. My projected Power Play 1 would be Hornqvist, Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Letang, and Rikola.
Guentzel and Crosby already have a chemistry on the ice that some marriages are trying to match. With Patric Hornqvist‘s ability to pull penalty killers toward the front of the net, both Letang and Rikola could generate offense from the blue line. Also, the defensive awareness of the blue-liners should help combat odd-man breakaways.
New Power Play 2
Most teams only use their second power play unit to spell the top dogs, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have enough offensive talent to deploy two deadly units. With the aforementioned top unit, the second unit could utilize the same setup. The forward unit would feature Malkin, Kessel, and the newly acquired Nick Bjugstad, who would serve as the net front presence. The defensive pairing would utilize Justin Shultz and Olli Maatta, who have had great chemistry in the past. Both of these defenseman have great defensive instincts and would prevent shorthanded chances, which the pairing of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are prone to give up.
A major benefit of realigning the power play units, as outlined above, is the chemistry after the man advantage expires. In its current form, Mike Sullivan pulls players from the top 3 lines, and they usually play the full two minutes. In the proposed realignment, Bryan Rust would be the odd man out on the top unit, but he is no stranger to playing in the bottom six. This would give Coach Sullivan to roll out his 3rd and 4th lines when the penalty expires.
I am not suggesting that the power play is the only shortcoming of this team right now, but being able to count on them to create offense without giving up shorthanded chances would go a long way come playoff time.