PITTSBURGH -- After the Pittsburgh Penguins scored four power-play goals in Tuesday night's win against the Islanders, it appeared that the struggling unit was finding its way.
But that proved to be a mirage on Thursday night in a dispiriting 6-3 loss to the Washington Capitals in the first rematch between these two teams that authored an epic Eastern Conference Semifinal series last season.
In fact, the power play's ineffectiveness Thursday night was the difference in the contest. Washington scored a pair of power-play goals -- including the tying goal by Alex Ovechkin and an insurance goal by Nick Backstrom -- in the game's final 23 minutes to pull away from the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby bemoaned the inability of his team's power play -- a unit he features prominently on -- to get the job done with the game hanging in the balance.
"What did they get, a couple on their power play?" Crosby asked rhetorically. "We at least got to tie them in that category. We had a (power-play) opportunity in the third and we would have liked to get one there."
Pittsburgh's 15.7 percent conversion rate with the man advantage is tied for second-worst in the League, behind only Ottawa's 15.4 mark. It is an almost unfathomable number considering the offensive talent -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang -- that the team can deploy.
Yet, it seems that the team can not find any chemistry while up a man. Sometimes, it is too many players looking for the perfect pass. Other times, it is the unit's main shooters -- Crosby and Malkin -- flooding into the same area of the ice. Still other times, it is simply bad luck.
But it is becoming unacceptable. The power play is huge as the games get bigger and teams become more evenly matched.
In last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins converted at 20.6 percent, scoring 20 power-play goals in their march to the organization's first title since 1992.
Don't think that little statistical tidbit has gone unnoticed by coach Dan Bylsma or the players in the Penguins' dressing room.
Thursday night, Bylsma said the difference between the Penguins and Capitals came down to man-advantage execution.
"Certainly in tonight's game, with their power play and where they're at in the League and their players, it's going to be a big part of the game every time you play the Capitals. Killing their two power plays off would have been a big factor in the game tonight," Bylsma said. "We didn't get that done. We lost the special-teams battle and we end up on the wrong side of the scoresheet."
It's not quite time to panic yet. The Penguins have 30 more regular-season games to solve this vexing problem and that, in the NHL, can be an eternity. Plus, they found man-advantage success last season, so the possibility of a revival is distinct.
Now, it is just a matter of making it happen, which is something Crosby says must become a priority.
"We moved the puck around pretty well," he said. "But that's an area we need to improve on, but is not going to happen overnight."
Overnight is not a necessity, just as long as it happens for the Penguins before the playoffs begin.