Regaining power (play) not so easy

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WASHINGTON -- All things considered, the Penguins probably should feel pretty good about being down just 0-1 to the Washington Capitals in their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series. The way their offense -- specifically their lame power play -- is functioning, they should feel lucky they're still in the playoffs at all.

Really, there's something seriously wrong when defenseman Mark Eaton has more goals than first-line wingers Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz combined. The great Sidney Crosby and Eaton were your Penguins goal-scorers in the 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Capitals yesterday at the Verizon Center, Eaton's goal his third in the seven games of this postseason. That's not just more than Guerin (2) and Kunitz (0), it's more than second-liners Ruslan Fedotenko (1) and Petr Sykora (0), third-liners Jordan Staal (0), Tyler Kennedy (2) and Matt Cooke (0) and offensively gifted defensemen Sergei Gonchar (1) and Kris Letang (0).

Actually, Eaton has more goals than everybody on the team but Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

That's pretty sick.

That also has to change.

Certainly, the power play has to find a little juice before Game 2 here tomorrow night. There's no gentle way of putting this: The Capitals' four players outworked and outplayed the Penguins' five and did so consistently. The Penguins wasted all five of their power-play opportunities, getting only a total of six shots. Not only did they do nothing to generate any momentum, they gave a huge lift to the Capitals and young rookie goaltender, Simeon Varlamov, 21, who will be that much tougher to beat in the games ahead because of the confidence he took from this one.

The power play wouldn't be such a worry if this were just a one-game outage. But it was nearly as awful against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. It's now 4 for 37, including 0 for 17 in the past four games and 1 for 24 in the past five.

That's really sick.

"We just have to get back to being simple," Kunitz said while taking out his postgame frustration on a stationary bike. "Create some traffic in front of the goaltender, put the puck on the net and bang it in."

If only it were that simple.

"If you look at the guys on our power play, there's no reason but to be confident," Crosby said, sticking up for the boys. He did acknowledge, though, "At the end of the day, you need to win your battles. At times, we didn't do that."

As always, Crosby showed up to play and did everything he could to win the game. His goal on a beautiful wrister gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead just four minutes-and-change into the game and made you think that, maybe, just maybe, they could get in the kid goaltender's head.

But, no.

Not on this day.

Not with this offense.

Give Varlamov credit. Playing in just his 13th NHL game, he made the stop of the playoffs, stealing Crosby blind with a stick save late in the second period. But, be careful now, don't give Varlamov too much credit. He faced 36 shots -- "That's a pretty good number," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, also defending his boys -- but he had few other tough saves.

It didn't help the Penguins that Malkin was a mysterious no-show. The game's other two superstars -- Crosby and the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin -- played hard and played well, Crosby with a goal and six shots and Ovechkin with a goal and nine shots. But, for some reason, Malkin didn't take part in their little one-upmanship competition. He was practically invisible with just two shots.

But I'll give Malkin his rare bad game. It's reasonable to believe he'll play lights-out tomorrow night.

It's hard to feel so confident about Guerin and Kunitz.

It's not as if they haven't had their moments in these playoffs. Guerin scored both of his goals in Game 2 against the Flyers, winning it in overtime with a 5-on-3 goal. Kunitz tormented Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen with a couple of big hits, setting a nice tone for the series.

But there's no doubt the Penguins need more from those guys. They were brought in at the trade deadline to score goals on Crosby's line and on the power play. They have not met expectations to this point.

"The big thing is I still have a chance to contribute," Kunitz said. "It's not like we're on the other side of the fence, out of the playoffs. I can't look down right now, I have to look ahead. But I know part of my role is to provide some offense."

Tomorrow night wouldn't be soon enough for Kunitz to start.

You know the harsh truth as well as I do.

Eaton can't carry the Penguins forever.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.


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