The Penguins’ power play is certainly powerful.
When Sidney Crosby went out of the Penguins’ lineup on Jan. 18 with a high ankle sprain, the team needed to find a boost. It certainly has in its power-play units.
The Penguins have converted 21 of 74 man-advantage opportunities in their first 16 games without their sidelined captain. That equates to a sizzling 28.4 conversion percentage. It catapulted the Penguins to third in the NHL with a 21.3 overall conversion rate.
“It’s not rocket science. We’re making the percentage plays or simple plays,” Penguins winger Petr Sykora said. “We’re just throwing pucks on the net and if we have five guys working harder than their four guys, we’re going to have a good chance.
“There’s nothing fancy there. Basically the key to our power play is Ryan Malone and me in front with Malkin and Gonchar on top and Whitney on the side,” he continued. “They move the puck on top and get pucks through and shots on net. If you get the wrist shot from Gonchar through, Malone and I are two-on-one against the defenseman in front, so there is a pretty good chance we’re going to get that puck. We get every shot down in, so teams will sag down low, which means we will have a one-timer if we go back to Whitney or Gonchar or Geno. It’s nothing really special. We’re just doing the simple things and it’s working for us.”
It certainly is working well for the Penguins. They have tallied at least one power-play goal in the first 11 games this month. All told, they are 16 for 53 on the power play in February, which translates into a startling 30.2 conversion percentage.
“We’re just trying to keep it simple,” Malone said. “I just try to give those guys the puck and go in the offensive zone and try to be around the net and maybe draw a couple defenders toward me. With those guys shooting, I try to get the garbage. They have some pretty good shots. Sykora has 600 points, so I think he knows what to do with the puck. He’s been playing great and we’re just having fun out there.”
The Penguins were among the power play leaders all year. However, they knew it was inevitable that they’d erupt for a lengthy streak.
“We definitely have the skill. There are probably 10 guys in here who could be on any power play in the league,” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. “I think we’ve really shown that lately and really started to click together. It was just a matter of time. Once we started outworking the penalty killing units, it became apparent that we could score a lot of goals.”
For the Penguins, less has become more on the power play. After finishing October with a 24.6 conversion percentage, the team’s power-play units struggled in November and December. The team dipped to a season-low conversion rate 18.6 percent in early January, but have improved that figure to 21.3 through 62 games.
“We’ve just tried to shoot the puck and be as simple as possible. We’re looking at just getting shots on net and tips and rebounds – dirty goals – and I think we’ve had a lot of those,” Whitney said. “It’d be nice to get Sid back to a power play that’s doing well because he’s probably the best guy in the league on the power play and finding open guys. It’s an exciting time and it’s good for us to be on a roll.”
In the meantime, the Penguins are doing a good job making up for his absence.
Evgeni Malkin has continued his torrid play as he surged to the NHL scoring lead with 82 points (35+47). He has recorded multiple points in eight of the last 11 games. Malkin posted 12 power-play points (4+8) over his last 11 games. Overall, Malkin is second in the NHL with 35 power-play points.
“With Sid gone, there’s a little more ice time for him out there for everybody and he can get in the game a little more, maybe. He is a tremendously skilled player and if he is on the ice 20 minutes a night, he is going to create a lot of opportunities,” Malone said. “Some nights, he might not have four or five points, but he’s definitely making plays that could have resulted in a big-point night. The same goes for Sid. They create a lot of opportunities for a lot of other guys. It just depends if I or other guys bury those chances.”
Gonchar continues to be a steady force for the Penguins as well. Since 2000, he is the NHL’s top-scoring defenseman with 109 goals. Gonchar has the second-most points (416) among blueliners during that span. Nicklas Lidstrom is first with 429 points.
Through 62 games this year, Gonchar ranked second among all NHL defensemen in scoring with 50 points (10+40). However, he led the league with 30 power-play assists, as well as the 36 man-advantage points. He had 14 points (2+12) over his last 13 games and 15 of his last 16 points have come on the power play, including career point No. 600.
“That’s obviously his bread and butter and he shows how good he is at it. It’s pretty amazing to see,” Whitney said. “He has great vision and so much patience. He’s always kind of making little head fakes and doing stuff that I don’t think everyone would notice necessarily unless you play the game. It’s impressive to see him from all angles on the ice.”