With a roster full of creative offensive scorers and some future Hall of Famers, power-play success would seem to come easy.

Not necessarily so this past regular season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And certainly not so during the lone game action the team has had over the past 4 1/2 months.

With a modified Stanley Cup Playoffs looming, is that a cause for concern for the Penguins?

"I'm pretty confident with the group of guys that we have out there that it's all going to get back in sync," defenseman Kris Letang said this week during a video conference call with media.

The Penguins were average on the power play during the shortened regular season. Exactly so, in fact: They ranked 16th out of 31 teams in conversion percentage (19.9).

That was a significant dropoff from the year before, when the Penguins' power play clicked at a 24.6% rate (fifth-best in the NHL) and even farther off the pace set by the franchise record-setting and league-leading 26.2% power-play success rate they had in 2017-18.

During three power-play chances the Penguins had during Tuesday's 3-2 exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto, they did not score nor even significantly threaten to.

"It's something you build. It's not something that actually turns on with a switch," Letang said of the power play. "It's something you have to be all in sync and work on it, but the good thing is we have quality players like (former scoring champions Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) that can make a big difference. So, it can start clicking right away at the start (of the playoffs)."

That is the hope. During that Flyers game -- the lone action against another opponent since the NHL shut down March 12 out of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic -- the Penguins utilized Justin Schultz as the top unit "quarterback" in lieu of Letang. Coach Mike Sullivan's staff also had Crosby along the left wall rather than the spot down by the goal line he so often has manned in recent seasons.

Sullivan said the team used a different look Wednesday during practice, the second-to-last gathering before things were to count for real Saturday in Game 1 of the qualifying-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Sullivan said the team has considered many players for that position along the left-wing boards where Phil Kessel was stationed for four seasons prior to his trade to the Arizona Coyotes last summer.

"We have talked about left-handed shots and right-handed shots. We have put a number of people who could potentially play there," Sullivan said. "We have discussed lots of things with regard to that. Part of that is deploying players and making sure we manage certain minutes of certain guys.

"There are some players that are our top penalty killers as well who are in our top six (forwards). So, if we have guys who are in our top penalty kill and in our top six and then on our top power play as well, the minutes climb pretty fast in a real challenging playoff atmosphere. So, we have got to do good job that we manage the minutes. We are sorting through that stuff."

Last year's playoff flop -- a first-round sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders -- was partially attributable to a power play that went just 2 for 13. In a short (best-of-five) series against an inferior opponent, special teams can loom large.

The Penguins converted on just five of their final 42 power-play chances (11.9%) before the season was halted in March. That momentum seemingly won't carry over four months later, but making sure the power play is clicking is a priority for the Penguins and their chances for playoff success.

"There's going to be rust, and we have to understand that," Crosby said. "So we're just going to have to simplify things and make the most of the time we have leading up to Game 1. Practice is a big part of that. But it could definitely get better. But that will just come with time."

Loading...
Loading...