The Penguins have the kind of power play that can be a difference-maker, and it has been this season.
Unfortunately for them, it usually has been in a negative way.
Witness their 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders at Mellon Arena last night, when the Penguins capitalized on just one of six chances with the extra man -- and got that one only because of a quirky bounce.
"It's pretty frustrating right now," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.
The loss dropped the Penguins' record to 17-16-2, which includes a 7-8-2 mark on home ice and 4-10-1 record against Atlantic Division opponents.
"We let one slip away that we really needed to win," left winger Gary Roberts said.
Although the Penguins can deploy some world-class talent when they have a man-advantage, they have scored two or more power-play goals just four times in 35 games and are converting at a fairly ordinary rate of 18.9 percent.
What's more, their power play seems prone to sputtering at pivotal moments, like when New York's Sean Bergenheim picked up a double-minor later in the second period with the score tied, 2-2.
A goal then could have altered the course of the game -- and would have been particularly valuable on a night when playing their third game in four nights clearly seemed to sap the Penguins' energy -- but they never came especially close to scoring.
In the past, the Penguins' power play sometimes struggled when they put too much emphasis on making pretty plays. That is not the problem now.
"We're trying to keep it pretty simple," center Sidney Crosby said. "It's just a matter of executing."
The game began ominously for the Penguins as Miroslav Satan beat goalie Dany Sabourin from above the left hash 44 seconds after the opening faceoff.
New York was unable to add to its lead, however, and Erik Christensen pulled the Penguins even with his second goal in two nights by swatting a Roberts rebound past Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro at 18:50.
Roberts' assist was his 900th point in the NHL, an accomplishment that earned him a standing ovation from the standing-room crowd of 17,008.
The Penguins moved in front, 2-1, during a power play at 4:20 of the second, although their man-advantage had very little to do with goal Jordan Staal scored.
Islanders defenseman Andy Sutton failed to clear a loose puck from in front of the New York net and got tangled up with DiPietro. The puck then squirted to Staal, who tossed it into an open net for his third.
That lead only lasted until 8:42, however, when ex-Penguin Andy Hilbert's shot from above the right hash made it through Sabourin and into the net.
Although the Penguins survived a double-minor Tyler Kennedy received for high-sticking Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli at 3:41 of the third, New York seized control of the game by scoring twice in a 37-second span midway through the period.
Left winger Blake Comeau picked up his first NHL goal at 10:28, as Hilbert screened Sabourin and Comeau hammered a shot past him from outside of the left dot for the winner.
"When I looked at the net, I heard guys yelling, 'Shoot,' and there were bodies there and a lane was open," Comeau said. "I put my head down and tried to shoot it as hard as I could, and it ended up going in."
The Islanders picked up some insurance at 11:05. Mike Sillinger's shot during a three-on-two break was blocked, but the puck caromed to Trent Hunter at the inner edge of the right circle, and he threw it by Sabourin, who finished with 20 saves.
"You can't give up four goals on 20 [sic] shots," Therrien said. "You're not going to win many games. We expect him to be better."
Therrien hinted that Ty Conklin, coming off a strong 37-save performance during the Penguins' 5-4 shootout victory in Boston Thursday, might get the start against the Bruins tomorrow at Mellon Arena.
And while switching goalies is easier than changing the production of the power play, the Penguins understand that increasing their output with the man-advantage is critical to their playoff chances.
"Special teams have been costing us," Roberts said. "These days, if you're not good with those, you're not going to win."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published December 22, 2007 5:00 AM