The Pittsburgh Penguins have the best power play in the NHL when they’re healthy. There isn’t even an argument against it. Not only do they have five All-Star players who make up their first unit, their chemistry is also completely unmatched when compared to the rest of the league.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang (who’s currently being replaced by Matt Niskanen) – I mean, come on, it’s not even fair.
Having an efficient power play is essential to being successful in the playoffs, but when you aren’t scoring any other way, it isn’t going to give you the 16 wins necessary to win it all. The Penguins escaped Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a victory, and two of their four goals were scored with the man advantage. The game-winning goal was even strength, but it was on a shot that Sergei Bobrovsky saves 99 out of 100 times.
When the playoffs begin, the referees have a tendency to put their whistle away and let the games play out as they should. Only the most obvious infractions are called, and the teams that go far in the playoffs are the teams that can compete 5-on-5. There are going to be games where the Penguins get only one or two power play opportunities, and even though the Penguins have so much talent within their power play units, it’s unreasonable to expect them to score every time they step on the ice.
If the Penguins get by the Blue Jackets, which is still a big if, and they have to face a team that has the defensive prowess to shut down the two lines centered by Crosby and Malkin, they are going to be in trouble. Brandon Sutter came through for the Penguins in Game 1, which is a great sign, but players like Lee Stempniak, Craig Adams and Brian Gibbons will need to put some pucks behind Bobrovsky.
If the Penguins want to be victorious in the first round and make their way back to the Stanley Cup Finals, they have to be productive while playing 5-on-5.