Lacing Up: Power Play Participants
The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Bodenschatz and Zach Boslett will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF at week’s end. At times, guest writers may be introduced to further advance the conversation and/or to add an outsider’s perspective. We hope you enjoy, and we’d love to hear your ideas for future “Lacing Up” conversations.
Matt: Well, Zach, the season is upon us! It’s been a long summer, and it’s nice to really have an opportunity to discuss more than just player acquisitions and who might make the team out of camp. Of course, as we begin our discussion (Monday, October 4), we’re not 100 percent sure what the final roster will be, but we have a good idea.
Anyway, this week, we tackle the tricky topic of the power play, and more specifically, who will be asked to participate. With quarterback Sergei Gonchar, net-front presence Bill Guerin, and power play coach Mike Yeo gone, we’re in for a new look, which hopefully will result in more success than we’ve seen in the last few years.
My question is, who will get top power play minutes, specifically on defense, where the team is missing a regular who has been among the league’s most successful power play performers over the years?
Zach: So far in the preseason, the Penguin’s have experimented with several power play setups – some dictated by personnel and injuries and others due to trying to finding the right group of players.
Martin, Letang, Goligoski, Malkin and Michalek have all seen a lot power play time at the points with Crosby, Kunitz, Comrie, Malkin, Tangradi among others up front. So out of all these players, who will find their way onto the top PP?
I believe that Malkin will be starting at the point with either Letang or Goligoski on the other point. However, the Penguin’s power play with Malkin on the point is very much a fluid, rotational type power play similar to what Washington tries to do with Alexander Ovechkin.
Malkin will move around the ice and will be the trigger man for the power play, at least to begin. Whether this configuration stays depends on if Malkin become comfortable with the new PP setup and whether or not it is actually successful.
What are your thoughts on who will man the point?
Matt: Zach, you’ll notice that, even though I initiated the conversation, I didn’t really voice much of an opinion above. Truth be told, I’m quite indecisive with who and what I’d like to see with regard to the power play.
Ideally, I would like to see two defensemen man the point, as it would provide a bit of security, allowing those up front to take a few more risks. Anytime you have four forwards on the ice, the risk for shotrhanded goals increases. So, that being said, my ideal setup would put Malkin and Crosby on opposite boards with a big body in front (Tangradi and Staal would be my initial choices — assuming Tangradi returns to the NHL and Staal returns from injury). I would then try out Letang and Martin on the point.
I like what Martin brings to the table in terms of a breakout. He’s quick, efficient, and accurate with his passing and skating. Regardless of his zone exit method, I think he’ll be successful. Letang provides a lethal shot that could be a huge weapon if/when he starts hitting the net. That being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to yank Letang or Martin in favor of Goligoski at the first sign of trouble.
In essence, a defense by committee, to me, might be the best method. Keep all three players competing with one another for top power play ice time. Few teams use such a method, as most have one true quarterback, but until someone steps up, this might have to happen. Regardless of formation and personnel, one thing is certain: the power play must improve over last year’s version. Do you think it will?
Zach: Matt I think it has to improve doesn’t it? For a team with as many offensive weapons as the Penguins to finish 19th, behind Edmonton – the worst team in the league, just shows how terrible the power play truly was. I think the Penguins will buy into a new system they are trying out but Crosby will still pass up shots to make a pass and Letang will still miss the net occasionally.
I too like two defensemen at the point – especially since Malkin has stated before how uncomfortable he is at the point. My configuration is Letang and Martin up top with Crosby on the right half boards, Malkin on the left, and Tangradi/Kunitz in front.
After today’s comments about Eric Tangradi, it sounds like his time in Pittsburgh is going to only last until Asham is back from injury so there goes the only real option for a net front presence. But, as Washington has proven, a net front presence is not necessary if you have enough puck movement and lethal shots.
With Tangradi in the lineup, I like him to just sit in front of the goalie and have Letang and Malkin just hammer away at the goalie with Crosby picking up the trash. Martin is not really a shooter so the power play will have to run through the cannon of Malkin, the inaccurate right handed stick of Letang, or the hesitant Go-Go.
Goligoski should not be forgotten though. I think that, like you said, the best option would be to rotate the three defensemen (Michalek can also get a few shifts up top as well) and see what happens to click. Letang and Goligoski together did not work last season but Letang and Goligoski both have looked much more confident in preseason so maybe they can get some chemistry with each other.
However if Tangradi gets sent down, is Kunitz really the best option in front of the net? Should the Penguins throw Comrie out there to get some quick handed creativity instead? Or try Asham/Cooke/Rupp in front of the net to cause some havoc?
Matt: Well, as we finish off the week, we’ve had a chance to take a look at the newly re-designed power play, and let’s just say it hasn’t been pretty. There’s been a lot of player movement and a few personell rotations, but the results have been similar to what we saw last season.
Ultimately, I’m not so much worried about who is on the ice, but rather what they do. Player movement for the sake of movement is pointless. If they’re going to move, it should be to confuse the penaltu killers and set up a shot. So, to answer your question, Zach, I don’t think it matters at all who is in front of the net if they aren’t willing/able to shoot the puck and do so with accuracy.