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Penguins power play dooms Senators in Game 1

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Part of the difficulty in stifling the lethal Pittsburgh Penguins power play is that the one you deny in the first period might not be the unit you see in the second.

Blessed not only with a deep collection of talent, the Penguins can attack a penalty kill with a number of looks.

Almost all of them seem to work.

Buoyed by a 2-for-4 showing in a 4-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference Semifinal series Tuesday night, Pittsburgh improved its NHL-best Stanley Cup Playoffs power-play conversion rate to 36 percent (9-for-25).

"Their power play is good," Senators goalie Craig Anderson said after allowing 5-on-4 goals to Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz in Game 1. "We knew that going in. If we want to have a good chance to win a game, we're going to have to shoot (it) down ... It's huge for them."

The Penguins power play also was huge during the regular season; its 24.7 percent conversion rate ranked second in the League. The potency has improved in the postseason. Last year, Pittsburgh's power play clicked at 31 percent in a first-round series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Since 2009, the Penguins have more power-play goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs than any team (54).

"I think the power play is all about execution, and it's all about the next one," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "And the fact we did well is something we'll take from this game, but it that doesn't matter next game.

"It's always about the next one -- and that's usually the biggest one, so that's always been the right mentality. We know the PK they have was best in the League all year, so we have to work hard for our chances and put them in."

Sometimes, it doesn't look like they have to work too much. It took Martin 89 seconds to strike after Kyle Turris was whistled for high-sticking 1:12 into the game Tuesday. Then, after the Senators had played a strong second period and appeared poised to carry momentum into the third -- a period they dominated in their quarterfinal series victory against the Montreal Canadiens -- Kunitz made them pay for a Cory Conacher holding infraction late in the second.

Kunitz finished a quick-developing passing play while he stood just to the left of the goal crease 36 seconds into a power play to make it 3-1 and give the Penguins a commanding advantage heading into the third period.

"When you get that power play, ultimately you do want to score, but a big part of our focus is just to go out there and get some momentum, get some shots, put some pressure on them," Penguins forward Jarome Iginla said. "It has been going well. We're definitely fortunate to have Sid and [Evgeni] Malkin and [Kris] Letang back there and [Kunitz]. But at the same time, the guys who are on it, we go over it a lot and we're working at it constantly."

Yes, Pittsburgh boasts plenty of skill with former League MVPs Crosby and Malkin, former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Iginla, 40-goal scorer James Neal, Norris Trophy finalist Letang, the player who finished eighth in the League in goals Kunitz, and skilled puck-moving defenseman Martin. Indeed, the Senators have their hands full, and they know it.

"With what they have with all those players," Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot said, "they're dangerous."

But unpredictability has helped. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and his staff haven't allowed the power play to get stale, constantly changing formations and personnel -- as well as where that personnel lines up. Adding Iginla at the NHL Trade Deadline and getting everyone back to full health after injuries to all the key members of the unit except for Kunitz has helped too.

"Their power play is good. We knew that going in. If we want to have a good chance to win a game, we're going to have to shoot (it) down ... It's huge for them."
-- Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson on Pittsburgh's power play, which produced two goals in a 4-1 victory in Game 1

"We practice our power play with a couple different looks, depending on what situation in the game," Bylsma said. "We're ready and willing to do all those looks. All have been practiced and have been good and we're ready to go with any of those."

Some of the various options at the Penguins' disposal include using a forward such as Malkin, Iginla or Neal at the point in lieu of Martin. But later in games or when Pittsburgh is protecting a lead, Bylsma has tended to use two defensemen.

Neal was the "trigger man" during most of last season and the majority of this season until Iginla arrived in a March 28 trade. Almost unbelievably, that has often made Neal -- a player who led the NHL in power-play goals in 2011-12 and was third in that category this season -- expendable.

Neal was not on the ice for either of the Penguins' goals with the extra man in Game 1.

Pittsburgh's power play is clicking at 36 percent in the playoffs without a single goal from either Neal or Malkin. Counting playoffs, Malkin has 98 career power-play goals.

Imagine when those two start producing. Even the Senators, who killed a League-best 88 percent of opponents' power plays during the regular season, are weary.

"This is the kind of team where everybody in their lineup can score, and we've got to be stronger," Methot said. "Whether we've got to play with more discipline, whatever it is, whatever the answer, [preventing Penguins power-play goals] is something we have to focus in on for sure."

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