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Penguins' penalty kill about to face new challenge

by Arpon Basu

OTTAWA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins began Sunday with the third-best penalty kill in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 88.9 percent, but will face a brand-new challenge in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Senators will be welcoming back Jason Spezza to the lineup after he missed more than three months recovering from back surgery, and the No. 1 area where he is likely to help Ottawa will be on the power play.

The Senators scored a power-play goal in four of the five regular-season games Spezza played. They scored with the man advantage in 18 of their remaining 43 games, so his introduction to a power play that has scored once in seven chances in the series is a major development.

"He brings a skill dynamic to their power play that isn't there otherwise," said Penguins forward Matt Cooke, one of his team's primary penalty killers. "We have to limit his time and space, but we can't change really much. We just have to stay with our approach and just recognize when he's on the ice."

Though Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said Spezza's minutes will be closely monitored, Cooke said he does not believe that will limit his ability to have an impact on the game.

"He just needs one shift with the puck, just dance down the ice, pull up and hit a late guy or dangle a guy to go in and score to be effective," Cooke said. "Just because he's not going to play the minutes he's been used to in the past doesn't affect his effectiveness at all."

The heaviest lifting on the Penguins' penalty kill goes to forwards Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis, with Paul Martin leading a group of defensemen that includes Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Douglas Murray.

But the only one of the Penguins' main penalty killers who has yet to be on the ice for a goal against in these playoffs is forward Brandon Sutter, and his usefulness to coach Dan Bylsma will increase significantly in both even-strength and penalty-kill situations with Spezza's return.

Bylsma said Sutter's line with Cooke and Brenden Morrow is one of two forward lines he will use in defensive even-strength situations, and Sutter's proficiency in the faceoff circle (team-leading 49.6 percent) makes him an attractive option on the penalty kill as well, particularly when the draw is on the right-hand side of the ice.

"Some of his best hockey has been played right here in the playoffs," Bylsma said of Sutter. "I like the way he's played with and without the puck."

As far as shutting down Spezza when Pittsburgh is down a man -- something that has happened 27 times in eight playoff games -- Sutter agrees with Cooke's assessment that the Penguins don't need to make any sweeping adjustments.

"He's obviously a big part of their power-play unit, but we just want to worry about what we're doing right now," Sutter said. "He's a guy you can key on and be careful with, but we won't change too much."

With three power-play goals allowed in eight games thus far, staying the course is likely a wise move for the Penguins' penalty kill. But the addition of an elite power-play weapon Sunday night may force Pittsburgh into making a few in-game adjustments.

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