Nothing like a click bait-y post headline to set up some cold, sensible takes, eh?
After the Penguins scored eight power-play goals in five games against the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, much ado was made about the strength of the special teams play. And it was deserved, as the Penguins’ power play and their penalty kill both arguably overachieved.
Two games into the second-round series with the Washington Capitals, the Penguins are without a power-play goal despite seven opportunities. Somewhat predictably, the players have begun to face questions about whether they’re squandering chances against the powerhouse Capitals.
Coach Mike Sullivan and his power play skaters certainly aren’t pleased that they’re yet to put a puck in the back of the net while they have a man advantage. But they sense they’re on the cusp, a feeling confirmed by a variety of metrics.
If anything, the Penguins are actually overachieving in terms of what they’re generating during power plays.
Here’s what Sullivan said following Monday’s morning skate:
“I told our group this morning not to get discouraged because we were close. We had a number of grade-A scoring chances that we didn’t convert. Our (zone) entries were (at) a very high success rate. We won a lot of faceoffs. I think we can have a little bit more of a shooting mentality. I think we can move the puck a little bit quicker, which will help us generate more opportunities, I think. But it wasn’t far off. We’ve given our guys a couple of ideas that we think can help them in tonight’s game. What’s most important from my standpoint is that they keep their swagger and their confidence level, because they’ve been really important to helping us have success here down the stretch.”
Here are some simple stats to keep in mind: Washington finished the regular season with the second best penalty kill (85.16%) in the league, while the Rangers ranked 26th (78.19%). So the Capitals presented a greater challenge for the Penguins from the get go.
Through two games in their series with Washington, though, the Penguins produced shots, shot attempts and high-danger scoring chances at higher rates than they did against the Rangers and during the regular season.
Check the numbers, which come from War-on-Ice.com:
- Shots attempts for, per 60 minutes: 144.9 vs Capitals, 102.1 vs Rangers, 97.2 in the regular season.
- Shots on goal for, per 60 minutes: 53.1 vs Capitals, 48.8 vs Rangers, 54.5 in the regular season.
- High-danger scoring chances for, per 60 minutes: 38.6 vs Capitals, 31.1 vs Rangers, 20.5 in the regular season.
Goals for, per 60 minutes, tell a different story: 0.0 vs Capitals, 17.8 vs Rangers, 6.8 in the regular season. But shooting percentage should normalize to some degree, and the Penguins will turn their many shots into a few tallies.
One area of power play execution where Sullivan likely encouraged tweaks (other than faster puck movement) would be shot location. The Capitals kept almost all of the Penguins’ power play shots on goal out at the wings and allowed very little to come from the slot or blue line. (Charts also courtesy of War-on-Ice.com.)
All of those blocks stuck with the Penguins’ most trusted shooters.
“They get in the lane,” Phil Kessel said. “They don’t let you get a ton of pucks to the net. And they’ve got a good goalie. So we’ve got to try and get more pucks there, create more secondary chances.”
So a little puck luck and a little more pursuit of rebounds might get the job done for the Penguins. And if that happens for a team that’s already looked so strong in five-on-five play, I’m not sure what the media will ask about then.