Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Penguins Power Play Key

Every team has holes to fill, every team goes into each new season with questions. Penguins fans wondered, who was going to play on the wing with Sid? Frankly, that seems to be a question every year and Mike Comrie was supposed to be the answer there, but, meh, not so much. (More on that in another post.)

Then there was the question of how and where Arron Asham might fit in? Turns out, of late he's fit quite nicely next to Evgeni Malkin.

There were questions about how they would replace the solid defense of Mark Eaton (not to mention and Rob Scuderi, who I don't think has been adequately replaced since he left after winning the Cup.)

Just when, oh when, would we get the magnificent Jordan Staal back?

And of course, we all wondered if Flower would return to 2008-2009 magnificence? Or be the hot, erratic post-Olympic mess he was in the spring of 2010? That's still unanswered, really.

There were questions. Questions, questions everywhere.

But the big fat elephant at center ice for the Penguins was, in the absence of Sergei Gonchar, just who would quarterback the power play?

So far, the answer is nobody which might account for the fact that I actually groan when the Pens go on the power play. In the words of noted hockey fan Harvey Fierstein, is that so wrong?

A couple of years ago, we watched Geno quarterback the PP and that was P.U. Not wanting to revisit that ineptitude, they did the obvious and plugged in Gonchar's wingman on the PP, Alex Gologoski. Despite Gogo's obvious shooting ability, my buddy the UConn Fan astutely pointed out that dude just thinks way too much at the point and by the time he figures out what he wants to do, the defense has completely adjusted. You know, now that I think about it, rather than groaning, I should run a quick lap from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen, and then reverse my course and do it again, because when I'm done with that, the Pens power play should be set up in the offensive zone. It takes them at least 30 second, sometimes closer to a full minute - an eternity in hockey time - to set up.

Sometimes, I watch other teams and within 15 seconds of the power play starting, they've buried the puck in the back of the net. It looks so easy. They make it look fun, even. Power plays can be fun? Who knew. May god have mercy on my immortal soul, but the Flyers and the Capitals make it look like child's play.

But not our Pens, who convert on the PP only 13% of the time, good for 24th out of 30. I could understand how you might think the power play unit ranked 31st out of 30 if you have been watching them squander 80 out of their 92 opportunities. [That 92 power play chances? Is first in the league by a mile, which makes it even more painful somehow.]

But the problems with the power play go deeper, much deeper than the points they're leaving out there. Its like their special teams futility weighs on them, weighs them down, putting subsequent shifts in a funk, a malaise. Their inability to score -- heck, their inability to even generate scoring chances -- is killing them in all areas. The way they get a lift from a successful penalty kill, they get a comparable drag from failure on the power play.

Rumbles are that Dan Bylsma is going to deploy the pairing of Kris Letang and Paul Martin out there to run the PP starting tonight. Martin has been a really solid addition and I love Letang's speed and grace, so it's worth a shot. They'll need a boost tonight, because they've got Vancouver, a team with a solid penalty kill unit and Roberto Luongo in net.

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