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Penguins' power-play changes might not be minor

by Alan Robinson /

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby might be out with the first unit and with a different second unit. James Neal might come off the ice at times. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as dangerous a twosome as there is in the NHL with a man advantage, might not be on the ice together.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are tweaking and tinkering with their power play for Game 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers after going 0-for-3 in Game 1. Some of the changes will be minor, but others could be major.

For example, coach Dan Bylsma is weighing whether to use two different units rather than relying on one unit in which Malkin and Crosby are out for most of a power play. The units would switch roughly halfway into a power play.


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The advantage is that doing so would keep fresh players on the ice. The downside is that might keep some of the NHL's most productive power play scorers on the bench part of the time. That could prove significant if, for example, the Penguins get only one or two power plays in a game.

The Penguins held an optional morning skate Friday, so there was no defined power play time. However, they showed off multiple looks during their off-day practice Thursday. One unit had Steve Sullivan and Kris Letang at the points with Crosby, Malkin and Neal up front. Chris Kunitz, who is effective in setting up in front of a goalie and providing a screen, also saw time with that unit.

Another group had defenseman Paul Martin and Sullivan at the points with Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Crosby or Neal in front -- but no Malkin. Another group featured Martin and Crosby at the points with Staal, Cooke and Tyler Kennedy in front. That line -- Cooke, Staal and Kennedy -- plays together at even strength.

Neal led the NHL with 18 power-play goals during the regular season, while Malkin was eighth with 12 goals.

"We're always playing around with little things and we'll see what goes on the ice," Neal said. "I'm sure there will be different looks, with [Sullivan] back there and Sid in his natural spot. It will give us a few different looks. We're going to switch it up a little bit if we're going to have success."

The Penguins finished a more-than-respectable fifth with a power play conversion rate of 19.7 percent during the season. But coach Dan Bylsma has constantly tinkered with his units since Sidney Crosby returned from a 40-game injury layoff on March 15 and, since then, the Penguins are 10-for-49 on the power play.

With three elite scorers on the main power-play unit -- Neal had 40 goals overall this season -- Neal believes that man-advantage goals are a necessity during the playoffs.

"It's disappointing when we don't score. It's every guy's job and, when we don't, it's frustrating and it definitely takes a little wind out of our sails," Neal said.

While they're trying to fix their own power play, Cooke said the Penguins can't lose sight that it also is important for their penalty-killing unit to play effectively against a Flyers power play that led the NHL with 66 goals -- nine more than any other team. The Penguins tied for second with 57 power-play goals.

The Flyers had only one power play in Game 1, but it produced Brayden Schenn's tying goal in the third period as Philadelphia rallied from a three-goal deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.

"They have a dangerous group," Cooke said. "They're very offensive. The big thing is we can't chase all the time. We have to make sure we're in control and, when the situation arises, then we can all pressure at the same time. That's just a key of ours, is to make sure we're all on the same page as to when and where we are going to pressure."

The Flyers have scored a power play goal in all seven games against Pittsburgh this season, going 7-for-30.

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