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Pens Prioritizing Movement on the Power Play

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When talking about what it's like to work on the power play under the guidance of Todd Reirden, the players can't help but smile.

"He's been awesome," forward Jake Guentzel said of Reirden, back for his second stint as Penguins assistant coach after spending the last six years with the Washington Capitals. "He has a lot of energy and it's different hearing a new voice. He brings a lot of new ideas."

Throughout Penguins training camp, the movement is what stands out. Not just with the puck - which they've been 'snapping around pretty well,' as both Jason Zucker and Colton Sceviour phrased it - but with the players themselves.

There aren't players specifically assigned to certain areas of the ice, like the half walls or the net-front. Guys are simply reading, reacting and roaming around accordingly. 

"It's more about possession than position in most cases," Zucker said. "With the personnel that we have on this team, it's more about getting possession and then making plays from there. Guys can play in pretty much any spots."

That mindset is somewhat different compared to the last few years, which comes after a couple of notable personnel changes. Patric Hornqvist, who made a living in and around the crease, is gone. So is Justin Schultz, who shared quarterback duties with Kris Letang. 

Right now, the first unit is made up of Letang, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Guentzel. The second unit is made up of John Marino, Marcus Pettersson, Jared McCann, Evan Rodrigues and Zucker.

"Ultimately, you have to look at your personnel and see the type of players you have, and how you can put them in spots where they can execute and have success," Reirden said. "As a coach, I was able to go and grow for the last few years and have some new ideas and some different thoughts that I think will work well for this group."

During Reirden's first stint as Pittsburgh's assistant coach, only the Capitals (20.7%) and the San Jose Sharks (20.5%) had a better power-play success rate from 2010-14 than the Penguins' 20.3%.

"When I think about that time, I think it was just making sure everybody was on the same page," Crosby said. "That we all understood whatever it was that we were trying to do that night. But I think just our habits were good, our work ethic was good. Everybody contributed and took whatever was given to us that night."

Then, during Reirden's six years with Washington, only the Boston Bruins had a higher power-play success rate (22.6%) then the Capitals' 22.2%.

"He's someone we've really been listening to and just kind of picking his brain and seeing what he thinks and what he sees," McCann said. "Obviously, he had Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and those guys. I feel like we have that skill level on our team."

Reirden has been doing the same thing with his players, with that communication and open dialogue being one of his strengths as a coach. 

"He's a good listener," Letang said. "He likes to sit down with guys and brainstorm some ideas. So, I think it's going to be different. There's going to be a lot of looks and he's going to try to put guys in situations where they can be successful. He's not afraid of trying things and changing it up throughout the game. He's not going to stick with the same thing all the time. He adjusts really well."

That's going to be critical with the way this season is structured. With the Penguins playing each member of the East Division eight total times, usually in two-game series, they will have to find ways to be unpredictable and keep their opponents guessing. So far, so good in that regard.

"It's a group of guys that have played together for a long period of time," Sceviour said. "They know where each other are without even having to look, which makes it very hard to kill. You think you have them in a spot that's advantageous to you and the kill, and two quick passes through a seam or around the ice and back, and all of a sudden they have you spread out where they want you."

Overall, the Penguins feel like they're in a good spot heading into the season coming off a down year where they ranked 16th in the league on the man-advantage. They have great personnel and a great coach overseeing it all.

"He brings just this confidence to our power play that I think we've been missing for a while here," McCann said of Reirden. "And we're excited to see it work."

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