Penguins Insider: Crosby finds his power-play muse
NEW YORK — Center Sidney Crosby discovered his power-play muse while he sat on the bench in the first two games of the Penguins’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the New York Rangers and watched Carl Hagelin, Matt Cullen, Tom Kuhnhackl, Ian Cole and the rest of the team’s penalty killers turn man disadvantages into short-handed scoring chances.
“You watch our own guys go over the boards and the way that they’re off after 30 seconds and they’re moving their feet and they’re killing hard,” Crosby said. “As a power play (unit), you have to know that you have to have that same mindset going over. Once you can kind of settle things down, and once you get the puck retrieved, then you can kind of make your plays after that. But first and foremost, you’re just worried about making sure that you get control.”
For the Penguins, transferring their superior possession abilities in five-on-five play to power-play performances remains a work in progress. Through Game 3, they generated just 70.59 percent of the shots on goal during their five-on-four power plays, the lowest share among the 16 playoff teams, according to corsica.hockey. Only their shooting percentage (25.0) kept them among the most productive power-play teams in the postseason in terms of goal scoring.
By comparison, the Penguins’ penalty kill is the only one since the start of the playoffs to score short-handed and not allow a goal. The unit also has accounted for 23.1 percent of the shots during Rangers’ power plays, a share that ranks third in the playoffs.
But Crosby and company like where their half of the special teams effort is headed. They already provide some of the prettiest goals — Crosby’s tap-in after Phil Kessel threaded a pass in Game 3 and Kessel’s goal on a no-look backhanded dish from Nick Bonino in Game 2 rank as series highlights. They expect their power-play efforts also will soon provide confidence-building offensive zone time rather than maddening neutral-zone regroups and costly giveaways, such as the one in Game 3 that set up Rick Nash’s breakaway.
“I think the last couple games, we’ve probably done a better job holding it in there (in the offensive end,” Crosby said. “(On Tuesday), we did a good job of just making a couple passes and executing.
“But you’ve got to make sure you outwork the other team, and usually that other stuff just kind of takes care of itself.”
When general manager Jim Rutherford fired Mike Johnston on Dec. 12 and introduced Mike Sullivan as Penguins coach, he harped on the importance of a shot-oriented power play, one that resisted the urge to pass around the periphery in search of the perfect scoring chance.
Ebbs and flows in the Penguins’ performances with a man advantage followed over the next several months, notably when Evgeni Malkin left the lineup with injuries. But the Penguins never struggled with shot generation on the power play, only in putting the puck in the back of the net.
After the Rangers held the Penguins to five shots on goal on five power-play opportunities in Game 1, not even Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal eased the frustration over execution in that area of special teams. Sullivan said the Penguins needed to improve their offensive zone entries.
Improvements became apparent to the coach by the end of Game 3.
“I think our entries have been pretty good,” Sullivan said. “The Rangers are a high-pressure kill. They put a lot of pressure on our guys to have to make plays, and I think our guys have done a pretty good job as far as supporting the puck and trying to keep the puck. And when the opportunity presents itself to get it to the net, they’re trying to get it to the net.
“The power play over the last handful of games has scored some big goals for us. That one late in the second period (Tuesday, scored by Crosby) might’ve been the biggest goal scored for us in the series.”