Where Does Sid Fit Into The Man Advantage?
The buzz about Sidney Crosby’s second comeback for the Pittsburgh Penguins has been growing ever since the announcement that he could potentially return as early as Sunday, March 11, against the Boston Bruins.
One of the more hot-button topics about Crosby’s return has centered around what Dan Bylsma will do with the power-play in light of Crosby’s return to the ice.
I think it’s important that we start this discussion with an awareness of what the Penguins are currently doing on the man-advantage, why they’ve been successful, and where they can fit the captain into the system without rearranging an entire set-up that has brought success throughout the year.
Illustrated below is the current structure of the Penguins power-play. It’s a bit of an umbrella set-up. I listed Kris Letang as the man that normally takes the spot on the point, but obviously he’s interchangeable with Paul Martin or Matt Niskanen, depending on who Bylsma rolls out in his absence.
There are a few important aspects of this power-play worth reiterating before we discuss changes.
The Penguins have a one-timer on both sides of the ice. Steve Sullivan and Evgeni Malkin have the ability to toss the puck cross ice and release wicked one-timers to the net. The cross-ice feed makes the defensive unit back up a little bit and be cognizant of the lanes through the middle of the ice.
James Neal plays the role of rover in this system. His ability to move through the slot, draw defenders with him, and release wicked shots in high percentage areas has backed down the penalty-kill of other teams and created space for the Penguins best players to take over.
Kunitz, obviously, plays disruption role in front of the net. Kunitz provides traffic in front of the goaltender, opens up additional space, and generally creates havoc that only Chris Kunitz can create.
Then you have the general at the top. The guy in charge of everything. The Penguins power-play is 0-for since Letang went down. Why? Simply because Letang is the man that makes this entire power-play click. He is the distributor. His decision making is what gets everyone else going.
So, now that we have an understanding of what the Penguins are doing, how can they fit Sidney Crosby into this equation?
For me, it doesn’t get any easier than this.
We know Evgeni Malkin’s aversion to playing the point with regularity, but if you watch how the movement on the Penguins current umbrella-style system works, we often see Geno in this position anyway. He still has the ability to command the troops from up top, and he still has defensive help just to his left. The one-timer opportunities cross-ice still exist.
It is imperative that Sidney Crosby play the right half-wall. His ability to sneak down low and pot goals from the side of the net is second to none. Take a look at the diagram below.
We’ve seen this a million times. Crosby loves to get in the dirty areas down low and chip pucks in front from the right side of the net.
So, while you’ve removed the lone defenseman from the top of the point and replaced him with a forward, it’s still possible to take the main facets of Bylsma’s new power-play and apply them with the same principals by simply switching some players around and adding one of the best players on the planet to the right half-wall.
As long as the Penguins continue to make the right reads, generate movement on the man advantage, and throw shots on net, I’d expect we’ll see the percentage of top unit rise even more with Sidney Crosby on the ice.