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Insider Only PENS’ PP SHOULD EXPERIMENT IN GONCHAR’S ABSENCE

By MARK MADDEN
Let’s dispel a myth about Sergei Gonchar’s broken wrist: The Penguins will NOT see how the team functions minus Gonchar for the next 4-6 weeks and decide whether to re-sign him based on that. The Penguins had their fill of playing sans No. 55 last season.

If Gonchar doesn’t take a significant pay cut from his current $5 million salary in exchange for the security of an extra year, he’s gone. If he does, he stays. It’s that simple. This injury affects zilch.
I hope the Pens keep Gonchar. He’s excellent on the power play and breakout, and he’s Evgeni Malkin’s emotional lifeline. I would hope Gonchar’s had enough of playing with also-rans. Then again, all the Commies want as many rubles as possible to lug home to Mother Russia.
A more interesting debate: What do the Penguins do on the power play while Gonchar is absent?
The simple thing is to give Kris Letang the left-circle spot full-time, installing Alex Goligoski at Gonchar’s center-point spot. That’s Goligoski’s best PP position. He’ll inherit it from Gonchar eventually.
But given the inefficiency of the power play – it ranks 18th in the NHL with a conversion percentage of 20.5; it was 20th last year at 17.2 – perhaps it’s time to change things a bit. With all that talent, the Penguins’ PP should do much better.
Sidney Crosby and Malkin each prefer the right-circle half-board. It’s also the best position for each. It keeps their sticks on the inside of the rink and gives them a good view of the whole zone. They can shoot one-time. They can pass one-time. One move and they’re at the net.
But only one of them can play there.
In deference to Malkin’s superior shooting and Crosby’s superior puck-retrieval skills, Geno usually plays the right circle while Sid plays underneath. Each often rotates to the other’s position, but that happens with any power play.
There’s no such thing as a bad power play with these two on it. But they’re so close to each other that it’s not difficult for the opposition’s box to collapse on that side. Giving Crosby and Malkin some distance from each other might be worth trying.
So, why not put Malkin in Gonchar’s usual spot and Crosby in the right circle? It was tried last year in Gonchar’s absence (with middling results) but might be worth attempting again.
If you want to know why Crosby is so far off the NHL scoring lead, forget about 5-on-5 play. Don’t blame wingers like Chris Kunitz. Blame the underachieving power play. Alex Ovechkin has five power-play points, Sid two. Crosby hasn’t had a power-play assist in his last 16 regular-season games. That is absolutely scandalous.
Malkin has done a bit better with the man-advantage, tallying six power-play points. But then, he is in his preferred spot.
One thing is certain: If the Penguins are to repeat as champions, they need a better power play. They converted 20.6 percent of the time during last year’s playoffs, the postseason’s seventh-best mark. From that standpoint, the Penguins got lucky.
Scoring titles are won on the power play. Stanley Cups are won via special teams. Improvement isn’t a must. But it’s surely preferable.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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Mark Madden

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