The Penguins didn't score a power-play goal in their 4-2 victory in Washington Sunday. • No real surprise there, since they're 1 for 24 with the extra man in the past six games. • They did, however, quite possibly hit upon the perfect personnel combination for their No. 1 unit. The challenge now is determining which one it was. • Sidney Crosby, Ryan Malone and Evgeni Malkin up front, with Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar on the points? How about Malkin and Malone, with Petr Sykora in Crosby's spot? Malone, Crosby and Sykora, maybe? Or perhaps the long-shot grouping of Crosby, Tyler Kennedy and Jeff Taffe as the forwards, with Kris Letang and Darryl Sydor on the points? • The Penguins deployed all of those combinations, and probably a few others, against the Capitals. And they likely will cobble together a few others in coming days as they try to decide the best configurations before the playoffs begin. • "From here on out, we'll try different things, and see how it clicks," said assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the power play. • The experiment could get another ingredient tomorrow, if right winger Marian Hossa is able to play when Buffalo visits Mellon Arena at 7:38 p.m. He has missed five games with a sprained knee.
That Hossa will be grafted onto one of the power-play units is a given; precisely where he will go, and how long he will stay there, is unsure.
Regardless of where he fits, Hossa should make it possible for the Penguins to assemble two effective power-play units. If so, the overall efficiency of the power play should rise, simply because of the additional strain that will be placed on opposing penalty-killers.
"Guys will be more fresh for each power play," Malone said. "We should be able to snap [the puck] around, make sure we win all those battles if we have fresh guys out there. It's just going to make us deeper and more dangerous."
Kid and play
The Penguins' power play with and without Sidney Crosby this season:
Average Goals Per Game
Percentage of Goals From the Power Play
The Penguins have the fourth-ranked power play in the NHL with a conversion rate of 20.4 percent. Not a bad number and one more complex and interesting than it appears to be at first blush.
It was, for example, more productive when Crosby -- the NHL's defending scoring champion and one of its most-gifted stars -- missed 21 games because of a high ankle sprain than it has been when he has played.
The Penguins were 25 for 93, a success rate of 26.9 percent, in Crosby's absence, but are 40 for 226 (17.7 percent) when he is in the lineup.
The Penguins' current power-play slump does not coincide with Crosby's return last week. It is 0 for 13 in three games since he came back, but was 1 for 11 in the final three he missed.
That the power play was most productive when Malone, Malkin and Sykora were the forwards on the No. 1 unit underscores the value of having a unit whose members possess complementary skills.
For example, Malkin and Crosby are both primarily playmakers, and the Penguins often overpass when they are used together.
"Sometimes, we try to make the pretty play too much," Malone said. "Sometimes, we try to get too fancy."
That usually isn't a problem when Sykora is involved. Give him the puck and a decent look at the net, and chances are he'll launch a shot.
"I'm probably going to think pass first a lot of the time, but [Sykora] is a sniper," Crosby said. "He's going to try to play to his strengths, and let the puck go [on goal] a little more than I do."
Perhaps the Penguins ultimately will decide their two units should feature one forward from each of three categories: Front-of-the-net widebody (Malone, Jordan Staal), playmaker (Crosby, Malkin) and trigger man (Sykora, Hossa).
If so -- or even if they go in a different direction -- they'll want to make sure the combinations have an opportunity to mesh before the playoffs start.
"It's going to take some time for guys to feel comfortable with each other, get a feel for each other on the ice," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
But even good chemistry can't guarantee a steady supply of goals.
"Power plays are streaky," Crosby said. "You just have to keep doing the right things. As long as the work ethic is there, you're going to be rewarded.
"Maybe you're not going to have 30 percent, but it's going to make the difference in games."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published March 11, 2008 4:00 AM