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Penguins have special feeling after Game 1 win

Thursday, 04.16.2009 / 10:53 AM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

 
PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma wasn't what you would call a power-play specialist during his playing career. In 445 combined NHL regular-season and playoff games, he had exactly zero extra-man goals.

But it's the changes he's made in the Penguins' man-advantage unit that has altered Pittsburgh's fortunes this season.

The Penguins can send out an All-Star team every time the opponent heads to the penalty box -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz up front in the first group, Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin and Petr Sykora on the second unit, with Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang manning the points. It's a group that should induce fear and panic in opponents, but for much of the season induced only yawns and regrets. The Pens finished 20th in the League on the power play, at 17.2 percent.

Through mid-February, the Pens were successful on just 16.1 percent of their chances. Things began to change at that point, however, and slowly the group began to resemble the unit that finished fourth in the League last season at 20.4 percent.

First, Gonchar returned Feb. 14 from a season-long shoulder injury. Then Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach. Around the trade deadline, Kunitz and Guerin were added. It all resulted in a rapid improvement that saw the Pens score 22 power-play goals in their last 25 regular-season games and connect at a 19.6-percent rate; the previous 57 games saw them score just 40 power-play goals.

The carryover continued into Game 1 of the Penguins' Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.

The Flyers' Arron Asham was sent off for hooking just 4:26 into the game, and 15 seconds later the Pens led 1-0 after Crosby kicked a deflected Malkin pass onto his stick and shoved it under Martin Biron.

The goal set the tone for the game, and while it was the only power-play goal the Penguins scored in their eight advantages -- including a two-man advantage in the final 19 seconds of the game -- the early goal inspired the Penguins to play their style and dictate the pace to the Flyers.

"It helps a lot," Crosby said of the early goal. "Special teams are huge in the playoffs and we want to make sure our power play helps us. To get one early, get the lead, get the first goal, builds confidence. Even though we didn't score (on the power play) after that, we did a great job creating chances and that's what we want to do."

With all the talent at their disposal, the Penguins seem to have an ever-changing look to the power play. The only constant is Gonchar quarterbacking things at the point; the rest of the players are constantly moving and rotating and shifting positions. One minute Crosby will be in front of the net, the next he'll be at the point looking to set up Malkin for a one-timer from the face-off dot.

Even a good penalty-killing team like Philadelphia struggled with slowing the Pens. It didn't help that they gave Pittsburgh so many opportunities.

"We were so undisciplined," said Flyers captain Mike Richards. "Every time we started to get momentum and turning the tide, we took a penalty that puts us back on heels. ... With their power play they play in the zone a lot and create a lot of momentum."

Its momentum the Penguins will look to carry into Game 2, Friday night at Mellon Arena (7 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS).

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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