by: Josh Yohe, TribLIVE Updated:PITTSBURGH —
The Penguins were betrayed by their greatest strength in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If they're interested in advancing to the Eastern Conference final, considerable improvement is necessary.
During the regular season, the Penguins were the NHL's best special teams operation, finishing with the league's best power play and the fifth-ranked penalty killing unit.
However, Columbus got the better of the Penguins' special teams in the first round, finishing with a plus-three mark in overall special teams play.
The Penguins' power play converted 23.4 percent of the time in the regular season. Columbus held the Penguins to a 20.6 percent conversion rate while scoring three short-handed goals.
The Penguins permitted only six short-handed goals in 82 regular-season games.
“We're happy to be moving on,” left wing Jussi Jokinen said. “But obviously there are plenty of things that we need to be working on.”
Although the incidence of short-handed goals is a concern, perhaps a bigger problem for the Penguins is their penalty killing unit. It has failed them before.
Philadelphia, one of two potential second-round matchups for the Penguins, scored 12 power play goals in 23 opportunities during the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs — and currently looks shaky.
Columbus scored on 26 percent of its power play chances in the opening round.
The Penguins have not killed penalties well since the Olympic break. They have allowed 20 power play goals in their past 25 games, including the postseason.
“We know we need to be better,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
Right wing Craig Adams called the penalty killing issues “a concern” before the Columbus series. Special teams, in general, should be a concern for the Penguins entering the second round.
Should the Penguins play the Flyers, they'll take on the team that scored a goal in 40 percent of its power plays in the teams' four meetings this season.
A series against the Rangers could highlight special teams for different reasons. New York outscored the Penguins, 10-7, in 5-on-5 play this season.
The Penguins were 2-1-1 against the Rangers because of outstanding special teams play, scoring on 35.7 percent of their power plays while killing a respectable 81.3 percent of New York's power plays.
Whether because of the Flyers' historical power play dominance or the reality that the Rangers outplayed them in five-on-five play this season, it is clear the Penguins need to improve their special teams play.
(Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.)