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Crosby, Penguins work to retool post-Kessel power play

Galchenyuk could fill vacated left-circle role this season

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Sidney Crosby said the Pittsburgh Penguins are working to find the right power-play combinations to replace forward Phil Kessel, who led them with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) on the man-advantage last season.

"With [Kessel's] shot, the way he could see the ice from over there [in the left face-off circle], he played that spot for a long time," the Penguins center said. "We'll have to find some chemistry and some different looks."

With Kessel traded to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29, Crosby said Pittsburgh will have to be patient as the retooled power play materializes.

"The good thing is we have a good chunk of guys who have played together in the past, which helps," Crosby said of the power play, which ranked fifth in the NHL last season (24.6 percent). "It's not totally new. I'm sure there will be different looks, and we'll have to find identities."

One key could be provided by Galchenyuk, who has the ability to give the Penguins similar numbers to what Kessel provided. Galchenyuk had 21 power-play points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 72 games for the Coyotes last season.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Crosby

"[Galchenyuk is] a creative player. He has a good shot," Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said. "Practice is still not a gamelike situation. You're trying to avoid shooting and stuff like that. Obviously, he's a good player. He knows where to find ice and when to shoot, when not to shoot."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he believes they have multiple ways to make up for Kessel's production.

"It's certainly different, because we've had that group together for a long time," Sullivan said. "So I think with some of the players that we've added to our team and some of our returning players, we have an opportunity to allow our power play to evolve a little bit. ... We still believe we have the firepower on that unit to be very effective."

Sullivan provided the first glimpse of Pittsburgh's new-look top unit Monday, when Galchenyuk and defenseman Justin Schultz took turns with Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, forward Jake Guentzel and Letang. That was the case again Wednesday, but a third variation was introduced with Galchenyuk and Schultz on the first unit and Letang on the second.

The Penguins will explore several options throughout the remainder of training camp, Sullivan said. 

Crosby and Malkin likely are locked into the first unit, at least to start the regular season. At some point, forward Patric Hornqvist could take Guentzel's spot and resume his role as the net-front presence for the top unit. Letang, Schultz and Galchenyuk are vying for the final two spots, with the odd-man out fitting into the second unit.

The idea of playing Letang and Schultz, two defensemen, on the top unit intrigues Sullivan after the Penguins gave up an NHL-high 15 shorthanded goals last season. They were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fewest allowed (three) in 2017-18.

"[Letang] and [Schultz] are both No. 1 power-play defensemen," Sullivan said. "Sometimes when we go to a four-forward look, one of those guys usually doesn't see the ice, and they're very capable. ... They're interchangeable in the sense they're both right-handed shots. 

"To have two defensemen on the ice isn't necessarily a bad thing. It should limit, hopefully, the amount of goals that maybe we give up, which was something that was a little bit of an issue for us last year."

No matter the formation, the Penguins are trying to introduce more movement into their power play. Sullivan is encouraging the players, especially those on the top unit, to improvise. If that becomes natural, he expects the power play to become as potent as it had been in previous seasons.

"I think the motion on our power play, if you look at the people we have on it, one of their greatest strengths is just their instinctive play," Sullivan said. "Hopefully it won't be forcing [motion]. It will become instinctive where not only is the puck moving but people are moving as well."

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