Woe is the Pens power play

Eighteen power play goals in 31 games just isn’t cutting it.

What’s worse is the Penguins and their coaching staff know it, but haven’t been able to rectify the situation. Pittsburgh currently ranks 28th in the National Hockey League in power play efficiency with a success rate of 14.3 percent.

Assistant coach Mike Yeo is the orchestrator of the power play and, at times since joining the staff in Pittsburgh, has been criticized for the unit’s lack of consistency with the man advantage.

“We continually try to work on the fundamentals in our practices,” coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday after practice. “We try to keep reiterating what we need to do to try to have success.

“Really, I think focus is the biggest issue. Last game we had a very good power play in the second period. We executed, we had zone time, we moved the puck around, we had a great scoring chance — didn’t go our way — and in the third our focus and execution … was not there.”

Yeo was the only member of Michel Therrien’s staff to remain with the Penguins when Bylsma became head coach last year. Oddly enough, it’s his unit that has sparked the most criticism over the last two seasons.

Last year Pittsburgh finished the season 19th in the NHL in power play efficiency at 17.2 percent. That number, combined with this year’s even lower percentage, is becoming tougher and tougher for fans to swallow when considering the talent on the power play.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — arguably two of the top three players in the world — along with one of the league’s best offensive defensemen in Sergei Gonchar, occupy three of the spots on the top unit.

Bill Guerin also sees considerable time on the first unit, while Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Ruslan Fedotenko and Kris Letang see power play time as well.

“What we do as a coaching staff is together and uniform,” Bylsma said. “Mike (Yeo) doesn’t get free reign (without me saying) anything. When we do a practice, I don’t get free reign (without other coaches putting) their comments in. What we do is together.

“Mike Yeo is certainly leading the power play, but we’re in unison as a team and as a coaching staff about what we’re doing, how we practice it, how we deal with our players in video and in the coaches room. So we’re together.”

To put the recent struggles in to context, since Oct. 30 (19 games) the Penguins have gone 7 for 75 on the power play — a rate of just over nine percent — including an 0-for-29 stretch from Oct. 30-Nov. 14.

The distinct difference the Penguins’ power play has compared to the top units in the NHL is movement. The Washington Capitals — first in the league at 23.1 percent — feature a lot of movement with the man advantage to free up shooters, confuse defenses and make goaltenders vulnerable.

Pittsburgh on the other hand, has a more spot-up-and-shoot style. Most of the shots come from the point or the half boards and most of the goals come from rebounds or deflections off those initial shots.

Time will tell whether the Penguins decide to go the route of a Capitals team — which is the only other team in the league with offensive talent comparable to Pittsburgh — and insert more motion in to the power play. When the Penguins were at their best under Yeo — 20.4 percent in the 2007-08 season — it was common to see players like Ryan Whitney sneak back door every once in a while from his spot on the blue line.

“Individually, unit-wise and focus-wise from the coaching staff, we need to be better in that regard to think we’re going to have success,” Bylsma said. “And we’re prepared to work on it.”

Maybe there’s one thing from the pre-Bylsma era that’s worth revisiting.

Notes:

  • Bylsma said both Chris Kunitz and Alex Goligoski are coming along nicely in their recovery from recent injuries. “They’re both doing really well, progressing, and we’re a couple days away from making that decision,” he said after practice Tuesday. “But they’re both doing very well right now.” Bylsma has said that Goligoski is closer to returning to the lineup than Kunitz.
  • The Penguins held a closed-door meeting to discuss the recent first period struggles. Crosby said it’s a lack of focus: “We all just need to make sure that we realize (lack of focus is) something that can’t happen. There are times where you play games and some guys may think that’s not the case.”

Chris | PPT

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