Give Penguins coach Dan Bylsma all of his personnel options for the power play, and he's going to have some pretty tough decisions to make.
A No. 1 unit featuring, say, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang probably sounds pretty good, for example.
But while that is an imposing group, there's no room on it for Chris Kunitz, merely the No. 3 scorer in the NHL after games Sunday. Or Hall of Famer-in-waiting Jarome Iginla, for that matter.
To say nothing of promising young talents such as Simon Despres and Beau Bennett, the latter of whom should be back in the NHL Wednesday after the 23-man roster limit ceases to be in effect.
Circumstances, usually injuries, have spared Bylsma the need to make such judgment calls for most of this season, and he definitely won't have to before the Penguins face the Buffalo Sabres at 7:38 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center.
Crosby, Martin and Letang are unavailable because of injuries, so at practice Monday, Bylsma unveiled a first power-play group that had Malkin, Kunitz and Neal up front, with Iginla and Matt Niskanen on the points.
"We are in that situation to maybe have to find a little different look," Bylsma said.
Iginla got limited work, at most, on the point during his time in Calgary, but Niskanen, who generally works on the second power play, performed capably with the top unit when Letang was hurt a year ago.
"For 18 games, Matt Niskanen filled in when Kris Letang was injured and did a really good job," Bylsma said. "Really showed he could be effective back there.
"He's a different element back there than [Martin or Letang]. Shoots the puck more than both of them."
The power play ranked third in the league after games Sunday, with a conversion rate of 23.4 percent.
Letang on his own
Letang skated by himself for about 30 minutes Monday before practice, but did not join the team for the workout.
Bylsma said the plan is for Letang to do the same again today, which suggests that he is unlikely to return to the lineup until at least Friday, when the New York Rangers visit Consol Energy Center.
After taking on the Sabres tonight, the Penguins will travel to New York for a game Wednesday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Letang, who is believed to have a toe injury, did not appear to have any particular pain or difficulty while skating Monday.
The roster that Buffalo brought to town for a game tonight isn't necessarily the same one that will be leaving when it is over.
The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. Wednesday, and with the Sabres marooned near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, general manager Darcy Regier is expected to be a seller over the next day or so.
He already has made one move, dealing ex-Penguins defenseman Jordan Leopold to St. Louis over the weekend.
The Sabres' uncertainty over what could become of their team before the deadline arrives could create a distraction that works to the Penguins' benefit, although the Penguins can do little to affect that.
"Those are more focus[-related] things for the other team," Penguins forward Brenden Morrow said. "Those aren't things we can control, so much. Yeah, you want to put pressure on them early, but you want to do that every team."
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller's next appearance will be his 492nd as a Sabres player, breaking Dominik Hasek's franchise record for the position. ... The Penguins not only have matched the second-longest winning streak in NHL history, but also the third-longest stretch in team history by earning at least one point in 15 consecutive games. They went 14-0-1 Nov. 12-Dec. 11, 2010. ... Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin, the Penguins' fifth-round draft choice in 2007, was named NHL rookie of the month for March.
First Published April 2, 2013 4:00 AM