The Penguins might be the most-watched team in the league this season. When you trade for the reigning Norris Trophy winner, surefire Hall of Famer, and d-man who changed how the position is viewed in Erik Karlsson, to add to your collection of three Hall of Famers already, fans are going to want to see the amalgamation. Add to that the urgency that the trade signals — the Pens will probably only get one more serious run with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang — and the bright lights are definitely going to be projected onto the Pens for all 82.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Pens is just what the power play may look like with all four players on it. Sure, it could be kind of a wonky fit, given that three of the four players are right-handed, and that Letang and Karlsson have spent most of their careers playing the same spot on a power play, i.e. running it from the point. Still, these four guys are just too talented and experienced to not figure it out, goes the thinking.
And the Pens very well may need a war machine of a power play. This is still a team whose bottom six is fishy. Jeff Carter is still here even though he smells funny and has weird green spots growing on him. Lars Eller looked pretty cooked in his stint with the Avalanche last year. Matt Nieto, Alex Nylander, Noel Acciari, there just isn’t a lot of there there.
And it’s still a team with very questionable goaltending, given the amount of times Tristan Jarry was letting lights go off behind him, especially when it got to crunch time at the end of last season as the Pens slid out of the playoff spots. Picking up a goal or two per night with the extra man will do a lot to smooth out the bumps behind the top of the roster, while giving Jarry the runway he may need to find his game (if there’s one to find).
So how’s the power play work so far?
Yeah, not great.
The Pens went 0-for-6 in their last preseason game, played in Halifax against the Senators in what was a homecoming for Crosby. It included a double-minor that the Pens didn’t generate much on at all.
It’s impossible to stress enough that it’s still only preseason, and teams haven’t spent too much time in training camp working on special teams until the very last days of it. Still, there are some issues to be figured out.
One, who is carrying the puck up the ice, because it’s something both Karlsson and Letang have spent most of their careers doing. They could switch off of course, but that’s step one. At the moment, Letang is the one that has slotted down to the left half-boards, with Karlsson working the point. It’s not a spot Letang has played much, and maybe Karlsson would be the bigger one-timer threat there. But to deny Karlsson the ability to float and move wherever he wants would miss the point of having Erik Karlsson. Malkin has switched sides, at the moment, but he’s not a one-timer threat on the right side as a right-handed shot. Crosby is either at the front of the net or roving, things he’s done his entire career.
The Penguins power play will probably take off when all four of these guys just get to improvising. To take a cue from the league’s best PP, which is in Edmonton, those guys don’t have any assigned spots at all. Connor McDavid and Leon Draistaitl can be anywhere and often are, and teams just can’t find them. Eventually, with the mobility Karlsson provides, this is where the Penguins will get to. Merely stationing him at the top of the key, as it were, is something of a waste, especially when he can rotate with Letang who’s more comfortable there anyway.
It’ll take time, but the likelihood is it’ll get there.
A weird quirk of the Pens’ power play the last couple years is it undershooting what it creates. The past two seasons it has finished with fewer goals than expected, which is weird given the finishers it has. Even if that corrects simply because it corrects, the power play will bail the Penguins out on a lot of nights.
But hey, the Death Star wasn’t built in a day (though the second one was seemingly done pretty quickly?). That doesn’t mean the Alderaan of the rest of the league shouldn’t prepare.
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