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Penguins vs. Red Wings Takeaways: Power Play Needs Work

The Pittsburgh Penguins power play woes and other takeaways from a 6-2 preseason loss.

Many of the Pittsburgh Penguins' top players made their preseason debut in last night's 6-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. On the surface, it should have been the other way around.

The Penguins started most of their opening night roster against what appeared to be the B-team for the Red Wings, but by the halfway point of the game, it was obvious which team had players fighting for a spot in the NHL and which team was getting practice reps. It was even more obvious when the Penguins were on the power play, which accounted for almost a third of the game.

Pittsburgh struck out in every period, going 0-3 on the man advantage in each frame to finish 0-9 on the evening. The top unit showed similar flaws to last season when they finished 19th in the NHL. Stagnant in zone passing and predictable movement allowed the eager Red Wings to not only stifle most of the Penguin's opportunities but create some of their own shorthanded.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Red Wings matched the Penguins in high-danger scoring chances when Pittsburgh was on the man advantage at 4-4. Dominik Kubalik even scored a shorthanded goal by stealing the puck from Casey DeSmith before calmly shuffling the puck into a mostly empty net.

After the game, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan blamed a lack of reps as to why the Penguins looked flat with the man advantage. But considering the experience that unit has together, multiple years with the same personnel, and the number of chances they received, someone should have been able to break through.

To their credit, Sullivan and power play coach Todd Reirden did switch up some things during the game. Both times the Penguins moved Evgeni Malkin out of his normal position on the right half wall, switching with Sidney Crosby down low at first and then with Bryan Rust, who plays the left half wall, later on.

With the preseason being a time for experimentation, it wouldn't be surprising to see more of those small switches in the remaining three games. But the Penguins may also need to try utilizing different personnel.

Rickard Rakell could infuse new life into the top power-play unit with his shot-first mentality and chemistry with both Crosby and Jake Guentzel. The most likely spot the Penguins would switch out would be Bryan Rust's, but with the small number of times Rust holds the puck, this exchange may not produce much of a different look.

Someone who could change things a bit more maybe Jason Zucker. Zucker's hard-nosed style of play could supplant Guentzel in the role of the net front/bumper position, which would free Guentzel up to get more involved on the outside edges of the offensive zone. Entering his seventh season, Guentzel has proven to be one of the best playmakers on the Penguins and could benefit from receiving more open looks on the man advantage.

The coaches can only do so much to change things because, in the end, the players have to be the real change for this unit. Too often, the top players (Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang) attempt to feed nearly impossible cross-ice passes through the heart of the penalty kill. When they are successful, it produces quality scoring chances. However, when it isn't the opposition either easily clears the puck away from danger or carries the puck for an opportunity of their own.

The Penguins got off to a horrendous start, but that's the purpose of the preseason. There is a little over two weeks to get things right before these games count, and expect the power play to become more of a focus down this final stretch of the preseason games.

Bonus Takeaways

Zohorna Could Challenge for Lineup Spot

With Kasperi Kapanen out due to illness, Radim Zohorna stepped in on the third line with Teddy Bleueger and Brock McGinn. Zohorna has received praise from Sullivan during camp for his fitness levels and has been one of the most impressive players at Penguins camp. There is still competition in Ryan Poehling, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Zohorna challenge for the final lineup spot on the fourth line left wing on opening night.

Top Line

The vaunted Penguins top line of Crosby, Guentzel, and Rakell were together again in this game after dominating 5v5 play down the stretch run of last season. They were not as successful in this game, finishing as the worst Penguins line at even strength. In just over eight minutes of ice time, this line produced only one scoring chance while allowing five. It may be a case of rusty chemistry as the trio has been separated during camp while Valtteri Puustinen has seen reps alongside Crosby and Guentzel. Still, expect to see more of this line as we get closer to opening night.

Goaltenders Struggle

Neither Penguins goaltender looked particularly solid in this game as both finished with a .714 save percentage. After a slew of brilliant saves early on, Tristan Jarry allowed four goals within 12 minutes of game time, finishing his night saving 10 of 14 shots on goal. Casey DeSmith was tested less often but allowed a horrendous shorthanded goal after turning the puck over behind his net and scrambling to get back into position. It was a down night for the entire Penguins team, and the goaltenders were no exception.

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