Therrien switches up struggling power play



A little calmer, and with a little more explanation, Penguins coach Michel Therrien picked up where he left off Saturday night about his concerns over the team's power play, which saw some personnel changes yesterday.

Although Therrien acknowledged the Penguins -- 7-1-1 in November and fourth in the Eastern Conference through yesterday with 27 points -- are doing fine in other aspects of their game, the power play remains a sore spot with him because he doesn't see his team putting enough sweat into it.

"There are times when the puck is in the corner after a rebound. The X's and O's don't count," he said after practice yesterday at Mellon Arena. "When the puck is there, it's two guys battling against two or three guys and you have to want it more than the other guys. That's basically what it is. Right now, every time there's a loose puck, when we're battling for the puck, we lose that battle and the puck's going down [to the other end] and we have to start all over again."

Going into their road game tomorrow night against the New York Islanders, the Penguins are 1 for 12 on the power play in their past three games, including 0 for 4 Saturday in a 3-1 loss at home to Vancouver.

Through yesterday, the Penguins ranked tied for 15th in the NHL with a conversion rate of 18.3 percent. On the road, they are at 10.8 percent with just four goals in 37 chances.

"We addressed it. It's got to be better," Therrien said.

Before the full practice session started, 20 minutes were spent on the power play, which featured a couple new faces.

On the first unit, Evgeni Malkin was back on the right point after moving up to a forward spot in recent games. Alex Goligoski remained on the opposite point. Tyler Kennedy was added and joined fellow forwards Sidney Crosby and Miroslav Satan.

Philippe Boucher and Kris Letang were on the points in the second unit, which had Matt Cooke joining Jordan Staal and Petr Sykora at forward.

"It's not about the personnel," said Therrien, who didn't want to address the changes. "It's a mind-set. We've got to change that a little bit."

Therrien and assistant Mike Yeo directed the players to keep it basic -- dump the puck in softly or send it hard around the boards, with two forwards chasing the puck and the other setting up behind the net. Battle for the puck, shoot it and, if there is a rebound, battle some more to regain possession.

Slick moves -- the tic-tac-toe perimeter passing Therrien criticized Saturday -- were not encouraged.

"We stick too much on the outside," he said. "We're not aggressive enough to make plays and shoot the puck on the net and have a little more traffic. ... Even if you shoot the puck, you're going to have to battle to get it back. This is what is hurting us right now."

Kennedy and Cooke fit the type for what could turn things around.

"I like to battle," Kennedy said. "I'm going to try to stay on [the top unit].

"I think right now we're trying to get back to the basics, get pucks on net, keep it simple and try to outwork the penalty kill."

One of Therrien's complaints is that opponents' penalty-killers are outhustling the Penguins, thereby nullifying the advantage of having an extra skater.

"We think it's going to be easy because we're one man up on them," Letang said. "We have to work harder than them. We always have to be first on the puck."

Although they are missing point men Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, who have not played this season because of injury, the Penguins would seem to have the offense and manpower to have a prolific power play.

"We have the skill to do it," Crosby said. "I don't think there's a question there. I like our chances [against] a man down with the guys we have in our lineup. As soon as we get the puck, we do a great job. But it's a matter of getting it and winning those battles."

Therrien isn't asking for a certain number of goals per game on the power play. He just wants it to match the rest of the Penguins' play.

"You break down our game, and I'm pleased with the five-on-five. I'm pleased with the defensive game. I'm pleased with the penalty-killing," he said. "We don't get momentum from the power play. That's the only thing.

"We could be two, three games without scoring goals. It's not always about the result. It's about needing momentum from the power play. Right now it's a little bit the opposite -- we're losing all our momentum with the power play. When you're losing momentum, it's tough to get it back."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. First Published November 25, 2008 5:00 AM


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