There’s a lot of uncertainty in hockey. It’s a sport that can make the most sober diagnoses seem downright silly.
So every once in a while, it’s nice to know you’re not crazy. When I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins (incorrectly in six games, by the way), the team’s highly productive power play was the justification. The Bolts scored 69 goals on the man advantage in 2010-11, second only to the Vancouver Canucks’ 72.*
* The Lightning wouldn’t rank highly on my power play plus/minus scale, though, since they allowed the most shorthanded goals in the league (16).
I wasn’t the only who noticed this distinction, but I’d wager that even the point’s loudest proponents didn’t expect such a stark contrast. Here’s a quick breakdown of the two teams’ power play efficiency through six games.
Tampa Bay’s power play
Overall: 8-for-25 (32 percent)
Shorthanded goals allowed: 0
Game 1: 0 for 1; Game 2: 2 for 6; Game 3: 2 for 4; Game 4: 0 for 4; Game 5: 4 for 7; Game 6: 0 for 3
A few thoughts: So they’ve scored power play goals in three of six games, but Game 5 was the real eyebrow-raiser. Four goals on the PP alone is pretty ridiculous.
Pittsburgh’s power play
Overall: 1-for-30 (3.3 percent)
Shorthanded goals allowed: 1, by Mattias Ohlund in Game 2.
Game 1: 0 for 6; Game 2: 0 for 7; Game 3: 0 for 2; Game 4: 1 for 3; Game 5: 0 for 7; Game 6: 0 for 5
A few thoughts: So the Penguins scored one measly PP goal, but it was in some ways neutralized by that Ohlund goal (in the big picture, since the goals happened in different games). The startling part is that they’ve received 30 opportunities, second only to the Philadelphia Flyers’ 31. Only the Boston Bruins have less PP goals (0, but just in 15 opportunities) and the defunct New York Rangers are the only other team with just 1 PP goal (although they had 20 opportunities instead of 30).
So, long story short, the Penguins have the worst power play in the 2011 playoffs. This clip of Chris Conner flubbing a penalty shot might be the perfect summary of their special teams struggles.
In fact, you have to go back to the 2010 Washington Capitals – you know, the team that lost in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens – to find a power play that was less effective. The Caps only converted on 1 out of 33 opportunities in that series.
Much like the 2010 Capitals, it’s amazing the Penguins have gotten this far with such a terrible power play. Sure, those numbers probably indicate a lack of offensive creativity (not a shocker in the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), but it also highlights just how scrappy this bunch can be. They’ve won three games thanks to good defense, solid goaltending and a few bounces here and there.
Can they win Game 7 that way? Will they fall victim to Tampa Bay’s superior special teams once more? Or will they flip the script in the final game? It should be interesting to find out on Wednesday.