The Penguins need offense, preferably from their power play. They’ve scored 11 goals over their past six games. They haven’t scored more than four in a game during that stretch, which dates back to Dec. 15 against Tampa Bay.
Yet, they have just nine regulation losses, tied for second-fewest in the NHL.
Pretty impressive stuff, but not a statistic that will hold, especially if the power play doesn’t start converting.
I loved coach Mike Johnston’s answer to Phil Bourque’s question about simplifying the power play. Just outstanding, and I will post it below. No introduction necessary.
“Since I came into the NHL in 1999-2000, I’ve always worked with the power play on each of the teams I’ve been with as assistant coach or associate coach. The key thing for all power plays … it was the same when you played, the same over time, is what do you need for a good power play?
“You need to generate shots from the point. You need a good net guy. Those are the two key ingredients. In the last little while, we haven’t done that as well. To execute well and create seams and those types of opportunities, you need a good point shot. You need good net traffic.
“I still think with our power play, the biggest issue we’ve had over the past month has been personnel changes. It’s been one player after another, whether it’s been Sid out, Hornqvist out, Kunitz out and Letang out, we’ve had everybody off that power play to a degree, and it’s really changed the dynamic of that group. They haven’t been in sync.
“I liked the first step; the entries last game were great. Now I maybe have to resort to getting more point shots. Then now we make the play off the point shot. Those seams will start to open up.
“Power plays are always under the microscope at the NHL level because it’s an easy stat. Power play and penalty kill are easy stats. Early in the year, for the first 15 games, our power play was phenomenal. Our penalty kill, for the first five, was awful. Then we’ve evened it out through the middle portion. Now our power play has been struggling.
“But it is an easy thing, and it’s like scorers. Why aren’t guys scoring? Well, it’s a feel. It’s a confidence thing. Good scorers have that, and right now our power play just doesn’t have that. They’re going to get it. They’re very good players. Do we have to add a little bit more structure to it? Yes. But I believe we had structure before as well.”
Carolina, which topped the Penguins here for one of their four road wins, does present a decent challenge, even though former Penguin Jordan Staal is questionable for the game.
Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal are all legitimate threats, and Johnston noted as much this morning.
“They’re forward depth is good,” Johnston said. “I like their top three lines. They have a good balance of scoring on those three lines. The game we played against them here, we allowed them some time and space, a lot of shots against us, especially in the first and second periods.
“When we went down there, I thought we were better at eliminating time and space for their forwards. Adding Jordan Staal to their group tonight is a big plus. With both Staals and (Nathan) Gerbe on that line, that was a very dynamic line.
“Recognizing where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, that’s what we have to do tonight. Also, I think, now that we’re hopefully getting some bodies back, we need to play our game and really start to refocus on our game and make sure our habits and our details are really good.”
News out of the skate: Defensemen Olli Maatta and Paul Martin skated early, as did forwards Steve Downie and Zach Sill. … Expect forwards Beau Bennett and Craig Adams, as well as defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to play. … No Downie, Maatta, Martin or Sill. … Skate was optional, and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Marcel Goc, Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi took the option.
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About the Hurricanes: Carolina has 24 points, the fewest in the Eastern Conference and the second-fewest in the entire league behind Edmonton (23). … In 13 December games, the Hurricanes have 13 goals. … Jordan Staal returned from a 35-game absence and made his season debut Monday against Montreal. Staal, a former Penguin, fractured his right fibula during a preseason game Sept. 23 against Buffalo. He centered a line with his brother, Eric, and Gerbe then eventually Elias Lindholm. Jordan Staal played 19 minutes over 26 shifts and finished with three hits, two shots and was 15-10 on faceoffs. … Tlusty, who leads the Hurricanes with 10 goals, returned Monday after a seven-game absence and played on a third line with Victor Rask and Chris Terry. … Alexander Semin is out with an upper-body injury, though he was cleared to practice Tuesday. … Carolina ranks next-to-last in goals per game at 1.97.
The series: The Penguins are hoping to avoid losing back-to-back home games for the first time all season. … They’re 6-2 in their last eight home games against Carolina. … Overall, the Penguins have won nine of their last 12 meetings with the Hurricanes. … Carolina has four road wins this year, but one of them came here on Nov. 28. Tlusty had a pair of goals, while Gerbe and Patric Dwyer also tallied. The Hurricanes outshot the Penguins, 35-22.
Next up: Friday vs. Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Hurricanes’ gameday page
NHL.com’s preview and box score