Penguins' power play defying explanation


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Power plays are notoriously cyclical.

Fickle, even.

A unit lousy with world-class talents can go a couple of weeks between goals before regaining its rhythm, while one patched together with third- and fourth-liners will occasionally manage to score in three or four consecutive games before reverting to form.

Happens all the time. It's part of the game.

What's going on lately with the Penguins' power play usually is not, however.


Today

Game: Atlanta Thrashers at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, radio, Internet: : FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ondrej Pavelec for Thrashers.

Penguins: Are 8-1 against Southeast Division opponents, including 3-2 victory against Thrashers Dec. 2. ... C Max Talbot does not have goal in 11 games. ... Have allowed two or fewer goals in 16 of past 21 games.

Thrashers: Have gone 2-2-3 after being on 10-2 roll. ... Dustin Byfuglien is highest-scoring defenseman in NHL, with 13 goals, 24 assists in 38 games. ... Are allowing average of 33.9 shots per game, fourth-highest total in NHL.

Of note: Penguins are averaging 3.14 goals per game, Thrashers 3.13.


It's not just that, heading into their game tonight against Atlanta at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins have failed to generate a man-advantage goal in their past three games. And, for that matter, in nine of the past 12.

But what makes their power play's performance in recent weeks so striking is that on those nights when it isn't sputtering, it's stunning. On the three occasions during the past dozen games when they weren't shut out with the extra man, the Penguins scored three power-play goals twice and two once.

Fact is, they've gotten a single man-advantage goal just once in the past 16 games, Nov. 27 in a 4-1 victory against Calgary. The Flames game was preceded by a pair of two-goal efforts and a blanking.

"I would say it is a little bit unusual," coach Dan Bylsma said Monday. "I don't have an explanation for it." That sentiment seems to be shared by his players -- "I don't have a good explanation," center Sidney Crosby said. "If I knew how we could get two or more every game, I would do it a lot more" -- although Bylsma pointed out that some common threads run through the power play's productive games.

"When we're at our best, we're shooting and attacking, and we have that mentality," he said. "The games where we've had success, we've developed that, right off the faceoff.

"In the games where we've not had success, we seem to go through six power plays with one shot. You look at those multiple-goal games, and we have eight shots on four power plays."

Left winger Chris Kunitz, who generally provides the net-front presence for the No. 1 unit, made a similar observation.

"If you go through the games, some of those ones when we were having success, we were putting maybe 10 or 11 or 12 pucks on the net during power plays," he said. "Sometimes you're trying to make it maybe a little too sweet.

"A lot of goals are scored from the top of the crease, banging it in, and we haven't had many of those this year. It's something we have to get better at."

The issue doesn't seem to involve personnel; the Penguins' top unit usually features Crosby, Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin up front, with Kris Letang and Paul Martin on the points. Not a group that could pass through a talent detector without setting off something.

Letang, though, pointed out that skill isn't the only variable at work on power plays.

"Some nights, it's just a question of bounces," he said. "The goalie can be really good. ... Sometimes you get stuck on the [boards] the whole power play, because they're pressuring you, [or] you have a bouncing puck and can't get control of it.

"And some nights, it's flat on your stick the whole time, and you have time and space to make plays."

Crosby, though, suggested that there isn't always a connection between performance and production, citing the Penguins' 3-for-4 effort during a 7-2 victory in Columbus Dec. 4 as evidence.

"Our power play wasn't great, and we got three," he said. "And there are other times when we move the puck great and get some really nice shots and it doesn't go in.

"It's kind of a weird thing to explain sometimes, but I still think it comes down to execution, and we still definitely can improve there."



NOTES -- Penguins forward Craig Adams sat out Monday's practice, but Bylsma said he thinks Adams "will be available to us" tonight. ... Right winger Eric Godard, who is believed to have gotten a broken nose in a fight with Ottawa's Matt Carkner Sunday, will be evaluated today "to see where he's at," Bylsma said. ... Jordan Staal, recovering from a broken hand, practiced again, and Bylsma said "he's in good shape, he's working and we'll see how he reacts -- and his hand reacts -- in the next few days [before setting a time frame for his return]."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com . First Published December 28, 2010 5:00 AM


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