Sidney Crosby is unquestionably one of, if not the very best player in the game today. Naturally the Penguins would much rather have Crosby in the lineup than out but over the years the team has done surprisingly well without their superstar center. This year was no exception as Pittsburgh went 3 – 2 – 1 with Crosby sidelined due to concussion-related symptoms. However, in the three games since he returned, Crosby has impacted the performance of the power play as much as anything else, as Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes.
With Crosby back in the lineup, the Penguins have cashed in on four of nine opportunities, good for a 44.4% success rate. In 25 chances without Crosby, Pittsburgh tallied five man-advantage goals, still a solid 20% mark. But as head coach Mike Sullivan notes, it isn’t simply the results; it’s that the power play creates a lot more high quality scoring chances with Crosby on the ice.
“One of the things that we like about our power play is the movement. That’s what makes it difficult to defend. We’ve had a lot of movement and that shot mentality, and Sid’s part of that group. He’s got great offensive instincts, so whether he’s beside the net or he’s on the half-wall or he’s in the slot, he’s a dangerous guy, whether he’s passing or shooting.”
In addition to his skills with the biscuit on his stick, Sullivan notes that his franchise pivot excels at gaining possession of the puck due to his ability to win faceoffs.
“It helps us to win that first faceoff so we can establish some zone time. He’s a threat, regardless of where he is on the rink.”
Of course, regardless of his proficiency on the power play, Crosby can affect a game in a multitude and the Penguins are simply a better and more dangerous team when he is healthy and playing.
More on the Penguins:
- Speaking of the team’s power play success, Justin Schultz has done a fine job for the Penguins on the man advantage in the five games since stalwart defenseman Kris Letang went down with an injury, as Pro Hockey Talk’s Adam Gretz writes. Pittsburgh has been successful on five of 16 chances with Letang sidelined and Schultz has been on the ice for every one of those goals. Sullivan notes it’s Schultz’s willingness to simply fire the puck on goal that is key to this recent run of success: “Sometimes, when we put guys on our first power-play unit, there’s always a tendency to try to want to get the puck to (Sidney) Crosby or (Evgeni) Malkin or (Phil) Kessel when sometimes the right play is to put the puck on the net.” Letang appears to be nearing a return but at least Pittsburgh can breathe a bit easier knowing that Schultz has adequately replaced their best blue liner’s power play production.
- Finally, in a piece for Today’s Slapshot, Dave Holcomb expresses his belief that the team’s sole weakness remains their blue line. That’s not a surprising position given that the Penguins boast two Stanley Cup winning goalies with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury along with two of the best players in the world in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But as Holcomb notes, while the team is still generating plenty of offense (seventh in the NHL in shots on goal per game), they are also allowing more chances against (second most shots allowed per game). Last season Pittsburgh finished with the second-best Corsi For % at 52.72. So far this season they are at 50%. Of course the team’s blue line was far from a strength last season when the won the Stanley Cup and it should also be noted again that Letang has missed more than half of the season so far. Pittsburgh smartly used the trade market a year ago to boost their defense corps, adding Trevor Daley and Schultz from Chicago and Edmonton respectively. That should serve as a reminder that Pittsburgh is likely to focus once more on improving the blue line as we draw nearer this season’s trade deadline.