As with every season, the Penguins will enter training camp with a lot of competition for various positions and roles. It will be up to the coaching staff to decide what players will excel in which positions to best help the team.
Of the many decisions that will have to be made by the coaches, one will be the makeup of the team’s power-play units, particularly the No. 1 squad.
|Penguins Matt Niskanen, James Neal and Sidney Crosby celebrate a power-play goal (Getty Images)
Last year’s group, overseen by head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden, finished fifth in the NHL with a 19.7-percent success rate and was a major factor in Pittsburgh boasting a league-leading 3.33 goals per game.
Last season’s crew consisted of Steve Sullivan and Kris Letang on the points with Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal down low. The top power-play unit featured those five guys for the majority of the season – the team changed its grouping based on certain factors (such as when Letang was injured or when Sidney Crosby returned).
Neal was dominant on the man-advantage. His powerful one-timer helped him lead the entire NHL with 18 power-play goals (two more than No. 2 Scott Hartnell), while finishing fourth in the league with 30 power-play points. Malkin was also explosive, ending the season second in power-play points (34) and eighth in goals (12).
With Sullivan signing with Phoenix during free agency, the Penguins have an opening on the point.
Two possible replacements for the point are defensemen Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin. Both saw action on the power play at various points during the season due to injuries. The Penguins could also try putting a forward on the point, as they did with Sullivan.
The coaches will also have to find a way to work in Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Kunitz up front (or possibly using Crosby or Malkin on the point). The Penguins have a lot of juggling to do in order to fit their massive talents in limited slots.
It will be a tough decision for the coaching staff, but a nice problem to have.