PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins player agree that their power play needs some work. So it's not surprising that barely 12 hours after they surrendered a three-goal lead and Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Flyers, the Penguins concentrated on their power play at practice Thursday.
Almost every player worked on it, too. Coach Dan Bylsma tried a variety of combinations and alignments in an effort to kick-start a unit that was 0-for-3 against the Flyers in that 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday.
In the Penguins’ last two playoff series dating to last season, the power play is 1-for-38 (2.6 percent) – and 0 for 28 at Consol Energy Center. By comparison, the Penguins were much better with a man advantage during the regular season, finishing tied for fifth -- with Philadelphia -- at a 19.7-percent conversion rate.
That might explain why forward Steve Sullivan, a power-play fixture until Bylsma began experimenting late in the season, was back on the point during the practice Thursday.
"Obviously, the power play needs to do a better job,” said defenseman Kris Letang, another point man on the power play. “That’s the reason we practiced it this morning. We could have put the game away with a power-play goal [while leading 3-0 in the second period]. We have to work on it and learn from it and make sure we do the right things.”
Bylsma explained the multiple combinations as simply making sure multiple players know how to play the same position. That became a concern when most of the players on the top power-play unit had just been out for a shift and substitutions had to be made on the fly during one of the three failed power plays in Game 1.
“We’re struggling a little bit with the units we do have so we’re trying to mix and match a little bit to make sure everyone’s comfortable at everyone’s position,” Sullivan said.
Bylsma also worked with multiple combinations, rather than keeping the top unit led Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for most of a power play.
“We want to try to use two units, two sets of players that can play a minute and get us going and get us a goal,” Letang said.
Bylsma began tinkering with the power play after Crosby returned in mid-March, with the most radical change being an all-forwards unit. However, the Penguins had four different games down the stretch in which they went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Letang went back to the point late in the season, and now it appears Sullivan will return there, too, which allows Malkin and Crosby to try to find openings down low.
“He's played there all year and shown he's pretty comfortable there,” Crosby said of Sullivan. “He can make plays and he's a smart player. He distributes the puck well so he brings all of that to the power play. He's pretty familiar with that area.”
Sullivan often was used during the season to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and establish the power play. In Game 1, the Flyers were successful in disrupting that flow, one reason the Penguins' extra-man units sometimes looked ragged.
“It felt like we'd take a shot and they'd clear it,” Crosby said. “We didn't really get set up and really try to expose anything there. We were trying to get shots, which is always a good mentality to have on any power play, but sometimes I think we could have been a bit more patient to try to set something up.”
Pittsburgh also didn’t have much success during the season against the Flyers’ penalty kill, going 3-for-22 (13.6 percent).
“They’re a very pressure-first mentality of a penalty kill over there, and they’re not giving us much time,” Sullivan said. “So we’ve got to make sure we execute the passes we make, that we’ve got some support and we’ve got some clean entries so we have as much zone time as we can.”
The Flyers had only one power play and took advantage of it, with Brayden Schenn’s goal at 12:23 of the third tying the game. Philadelphia has scored a power-play goal in all seven games against the Penguins this season, counting Game 1, and is 7-for-30 overall against Pittsburgh (23.3 percent) despite going 1-for-6 in three different games.
“We let the special teams get away from us,” Chris Kunitz said.