The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their three game skid Monday night by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1. After losses to the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche, it had the Penguins in uncharted waters early in the season, reeling for answers.
So much had seem to come so easy for them in that stretch; Sidney Crosby was scoring on a torrent pace to start the season and was held to one point in the three game stretch.
The most notable struggle the Penguins have endured has been their power play; in the last four games, they have converted just once in 18 opportunities. That is a 5 percent success rate; that’s bad for the worst of teams, let alone one with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on it.
While the power play has been worrisome over the last week, the penalty kill has been a worry the whole season, ranking 25th in the league at 77.1 percent. The home/road splits have been astonishing, as the Penguins have converted 92.9 percent of their times shorthanded at home, good for fifth best at home.
The road has been a different story, as they have the 28th ranked penalty kill on the road, only converting 18-of-25 times while they have been shorthanded while away from Pittsburgh. No matter how early in the season it is, this is a problem that needs to be solved.
When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, they had the 8th ranked penalty kill. Since then, it has tailed off and the Penguins haven’t sniffed the Finals. Too obvious? So, what can be done to improve the penalty kill?
Looking back to the team in 2008-09, the five players who averaged the most shorthanded time on ice and played more than 50-games were Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot, Matt Cooke and Malkin (Crosby was behind Malkin by seven seconds); compare that to Craig Adams, Dupuis again, Brandon Sutter, Tanner Glass and Crosby this year (of those who has played at least seven games so far this year). It’s an obvious answer, the Penguins don’t have the same type of skill playing on the penalty kill. What’s the answer?
Actually put your skill on the ice.
The last time the Penguins had a respectable penalty kill, they deployed their best players to kill penalties. Staal, Malkin and Crosby were three of the best players on the team, and Talbot was one of the more valuable fourth liners in all of hockey. Cooke was shaping himself into becoming one of the better penalty killers in the league, as he is today.
With respect to Adams, Sutter and Glass, they are no where near to that level, and now should be the time when the Pens start throwing everything into shorthanded situations.
When you pay a player $8.7 and $9.5 million, they are not being paid that much just to put points on the board, or at least they shouldn’t be. They get paid that kind of money because they can make an impact on the game, no matter the situation. Crosby has willed his way into becoming one of the best faceoff guys in the league, and Malkin has the long reach and has become better in the circle as well, actually besting Crosby right now in win percentage.
The Penguins have poured all their resources into paying their high end players, leaving little to fill out the roster with the kind of role players that Talbot and Cooke were. So, the stars must pick up the slack and be given a chance to kill penalties. The numbers haven’t lied about the Pens’ success when they have a great penalty kill.
Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.