New Power-Play On Display In Preseason
The Penguins power-play of recent memory has been nothing short of a painful experience.
In an almost poetic fashion, the Penguins succumbed to defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning while on a 6-4 man-advantage to close out Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
It was an abysmal picture of an issue that plagued the team from the start of the season.
The most popular discussion topic year over year is how the Penguins, who boast offensive firepower uncontested by most teams in the NHL, can manage to squander so many opportunities with the man-advantage.
Theories and suggestions have been aplenty this off-season, but with the recent pre-season games against Detroit and Chicago, Pens fans have gotten a good look at the new solution drawn up by Dan Bylsma.
Welcome to the umbrella era of Penguins man-advantage hockey.
Let’s start from the top and work our way down here. First of all, let me say that this new system maximizes the off-handedness of the Penguins snipers, provides a great net-front presence, and the key ingredient might be those little circles drawn in the slot, but we’ll get to that in a second.
At the top of the umbrella, I’m assuming we’ll see Kris Letang. Letang has several options up there. He’ll essentially be the general of this entire set-up, and with two wingers on either side of Letang waiting for one-timers, defensemen are going to have to back off a bit and give Letang a little room to dangle and make decisions.
The X’s on either side of the rink at the top of the circles should be some combination of snipers. We’ll see Evgeni Malkin, Steven Sullivan, Tyler Kennedy, and perhaps an appearance or two from a Pascal Dupuis type player on the second unit.
The key with this outside wingers are the shot. They will be set up for a one-timer on either side of the ice. They can go through the middle and feed each other, which we’ve already seen them do, or they can feed Letang from the point. This strong-hand one-timer is something the Pittsburgh power-play hasn’t featured in years. Geno made a name for himself scoring goals from that spot, and having the one-time ability from both the point and cross ice is going to maximize his shooting potential from those near boards.
The result should be something like this:
Open space for a one-timer with the goaltender moving the opposite way or having to come completely cross-crease.
Let’s move to the front of the net now. We’re assuming we’ll see a Chris Kunitz or a Jordan Staal creating havoc in the crease here. Every good power-play starts with that net-front presence. You’re drawing a defenseman towards the front of the goal and opening up space lower in the circles for decent shots through a screen. In addition, Kristopher Letang now has at least two teammates in his shooting path, maximizing the chance for a deflection on goal. The net front presence is key to this entire thing. You’re drawing a defender into his own goaltender and putting a ton of legs and sticks in the shooters path, regardless of where it’s coming from.
Now, we move to the position in the center that I’ve dubbed with arrows. This spot, at least on the top unit, will most likely belong to James Neal. The key here is his circular movement in the slot. Not only can he get a potential stick on shots by Letang or the wide one-timers, but he’s now going to find himself receiving quick passes from either of the one-time options on the side.
If you caught the Detroit game, you saw Geno fake pass to Letang, quick dish to Neal, and Neal put an absolute blistering wrister on the net from close range in the slot.
The key here is the circular movement by Neal. He needs to continue to skate into open areas, drawing defenders away from the open side of the ice.
For example, if Malkin has the puck on the near boards, Neal should not only try to get open, but draw a high forward away from Steve Sullivan to open up a one-timer on the other side.
This position not only creates a fantastic one-timer chance for Neal, but it draws yet another defender into the middle of the ice. Now you’ve got a man tied up in front, and another defender drawn towards Neal.
That opens up space for Letang and the far ice one-timers to get quick passes across the rink and get fast shooting opportunities.
James Neal’s shot was not utilized properly in the old system. The Penguins were, essentially, defending themselves. Two men on the point, two men outside the slot, and one guy in front of the net. All the penalty-killers had to was play a small or large box and the Penguins could not get into the center of the ice.
The Tampa PK, specifically, put massive pressure on the Penguins man-advantage unit and forced turnovers in the boards. There was no accountability for the center of the ice. Sullivan and Malkin’s one-timers have to respected now. In addition, Letang has some room to be creative and shoot through the screen at many levels.
While we’ve not seen this battlestation fully operational yet, the groundwork has been laid for the Penguins man-advantage unit to put up a better percentage and get better quality scoring chances than they were able to in the past.