Say what you will about the Jarome Iginla trade, whether it was popular or unpopular, one thing was certain — he was the missing piece that made the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ power play seem complete.
With all due respect to Kris Letang, he is a great player and his three power play goals this season show how valuable he is on the man advantage, but the Pens lack a real right-handed shooting threat. Making Letang a shooter from the circle basically eliminates his ability to use his strongest asset — his passing.
Watching the Penguins’ power play, you can tell how much they could use an extra right-handed shot on the ice, but no matter how many times it’s evident, nothing is done about it. It’s not like the Pens don’t have anyone; in fact, they have a man who is pretty much made for that spot on the ice.
Early in his career, Matt Niskanen got a chance to play with Sergei Zubov, one of the best offensive defenseman of his time who is also a right-handed shot. Being paired with Zubov, Niskanen was forced to play on his off wing, which would be around the left circle in the offensive zone. His play with Zubov is what makes him an ideal partner for Letang, and his underrated booming shot is the perfect decoy to pull the penalty killers off the side of the ice where the Penguins’ two greatest weapons are, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The reason they call it a man advantage is because you are suppose to make it an advantage. You have more players on the ice than them — spread them out and make yourself a threat from every and anywhere.
Niskanen isn’t the offensive player that Paul Martin is, but if he makes the power play better as a whole, then why not give it an extended look? Having Martin, Malkin and Crosby (eventually James Neal as well) all looking for a shooting lane from the same side of the ice just sounds like a mess. But when the Pens’ power play is struggling, that’s exactly what it is.