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Insider Only Player Reactions, Analysis on James Neal’s new role on the power play

Finding a comfort zone for Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the power play together at the same time is a yearly occurrence for the Penguins coaching staff and it was no different last season when Crosby returned in mid-March.
The Penguins without Crosby for much of the season had one of the top power plays in the NHL and finished the regular season ranked 5th on the man-advantage. Where Crosby would fit in was a question mark and he was placed on the point and come playoff time as the No. 1 power play unit was struggling a bit and were 0-3 in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 of the playoffs, Bylsma took Crosby off the top power play unit in Game 2 of the playoffs. It wouldn’t last the whole series but the Penguins were just never able to find that comfort zone for Crosby on the power play.
With Crosby fully healthy entering this season, the goal for Dan Bylsma and the coaching staff is to try to find a way to maximize the talent on this power play, as special teams is going to be huge in a shortened season.
Two major keys to the Penguins success last season was Steve Sullivan’s ability to bring up the puck into the offensive zone as the Penguins were much improved in possessing the puck and being able to setup, compared to years past. Kris Letang will get the first crack at filling that role which is going to be pivotal to the power plays success. Sidney Crosby figures to be the second option were Letang not be efficient in that role.
Another reason for the Penguins success last season was the emergence of James Neal as a premier power play goal scorer in the game. Neal led the NHL with 18 power play goals in 2011-2012, finding his comfort zone in the high slot and in around the net down low.
Now why would the Penguins move him out of that spot as Isn’t there a saying, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”?

Today the Penguins worked on special teams and the top unit had James Neal out of the spot he was so successful at last season.
Bylsma ran a first unit of Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down low with Kris Letang and James Neal at the points.
Neal’s spot on the power play is being called a “rover”, similar to how they used Alex Goligoski in 2010-2011 but the team hopes he resembles Ryan Whitney in that rover role from years past.
What the Penguins are looking to do is move him around, look for back door opportunites (Ryan Whitney a good example) and get him shot opportunities (left side) from the opposite of side of where Malkin and Crosby will primarily be at (right side).
“{He} has a great shot,” Sidney Crosby said of Neal, implying the Penguins have to find him in open space.
What the Penguins are trying to do is space teams out with multiple looks.
“Geno and I will look to feed him and then if not, we’ve got to be ready around the net to put in rebounds and create things down low,” Sidney Crosby said. “Having different kind of weapons at both areas can probably spread out there penalty kill a bit,” Crosby said.
On the surface it sounds good on what the Penguins are trying to do but will moving Neal out of his normal spot pay dividends? If he was a right handed shot, I would have a lot of confidence in it working.
“I’ve been back there a couple times,” Neal said. “Just try to get lost, I’m little bit of a rover, little bit of everywhere, back door, just try to find those seams. Kind of be like a rover, kind of be like everywhere,” Neal added.
One difference with this year’s power play compared to last years’ is Kris Letang a defenseman will be the first player back, not Steve Sullivan who was a forward.
“We were in a situation a little bit differently last year where person who was first guy back was a forward,” Bylsma said. “Kris Letang was a guy who would attack net on weak side and go in flanker down position. Steve Sullivan was last guy back. This year he {Kris Letang} is last guy back. That regard I think we are better and a little different than last year.”
Sidney Crosby on Evgeni Malkin: “He looks like he’s been playing for half a year.”
Bylsma on Malkin’s travels: “He has a couple cell phones, we knew he was traveling yesterday, and long day of travel and couple different spots, but when he landed in New York, his phone starting going off, his North American cell phone, bunch of texts, we started seeing some Evgeni Malkin texts back yesterday. This morning when we did see him, big smile, good to see Evgeni back.
Bylsma on Brandon Sutter Impressing: “Brandon’s skating that stands out. Skates a little faster up ice than we anticpated. Showed a release in his shot you don’t just get to see in games against him.”

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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