Penguins notebook: Creativity key to power play success



UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Special teams success in the NHL is cyclical, and even sending out a breathtaking collection of talents on the power play doesn’t guarantee a team will score consistently with the man-advantage.

It’s a good way to start, though.

Witness the Penguins, whose No. 1 unit features Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and James Neal up front, with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (filling in for injured defenseman Paul Martin) on the points.

The Penguins entered their game Tuesday night against the New York Islanders with the NHL’s top-ranked power play. It had converted 25.3 percent of its chances in the first 28 games of the season and had scored at least once in six of the previous seven games.

And that run says more about the skills and instincts of the guys who work the power play than it does about the way they are schooled to execute it.

Oh, the coaching staff has laid a bit of a foundation, but the real emphasis is on not stifling creativity.

“This power play is not practiced that way,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s not designed that way.

“There is some structure, there are some things they’re trying to do on the ice, but there is a part of it — the movement and the motion and the read, especially from [Malkin and Crosby — that] is part of the strength.

“[Neal] has worked really hard to become part of that, as well, of reading off both of those players and finding areas for him to be effective.”

Not teammates yet

In a couple of months, Crosby and his Islanders counterpart, New York captain John Tavares, figure to be playing for Canada’s Olympic squad.

For now, however, they are strictly Metropolitan Division opponents, leaders of a couple of clubs that are rekindling what has the potential to be a pretty fair rivalry.

And Crosby doesn’t anticipate interacting with Tavares the way teammates do in the immediate future.

“Once it gets closer — although it seems like it’s getting closer and closer pretty quickly — and the team gets closer to being picked [that might happen],” he said. “But I think we’re all pretty occupied with our own teams and making sure we’re playing well here.”

Bortuzzo sits

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who earned a spot in the lineup with a strong preseason, was a healthy scratch for the fifth consecutive game and has played in just one of the past 11.

“The start of the season coming out of training camp, Robert Bortuzzo earned a spot in the lineup with his play,” Bylsma said. “He earned a spot with his physicality and defending. He beat out some guys, some regulars at that position, Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres.

“As we’ve gotten in games and different situations over the last three weeks, Deryk’s gone in, been physical and provided that for our team. That’s really been the factor.

“Simon, really with the injury to Paul Martin, is a guy who has stepped in and played a little bit [of a] different role, a little bit different minutes, a little bit different situations and [is] a left-shot guy.

“That’s been the case right now for our defense. Robert’s been a guy who has not been in the lineup as a result.”

Bortuzzo hasn’t allowed the lack of playing time to discourage him.

“I believe in keeping a positive attitude and staying enthusiastic about what you do,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s sports.

“If you’re going to get down about something like that, you’re probably in the wrong business, right?”

Malkin honored

Malkin was named the NHL’s No. 2 star for November, when he had at least one point in 14 of 15 games. Malkin put up four goals and 21 assists for the month.

Chicago right winger Patrick Kane was honored as the No. 1 star, while Minnesota goalie Josh Harding was No. 3.

Tip-ins

Tavares, on facing the Penguins: “It’s always a lot of fun against Pittsburgh. They’re a great team, a dangerous team.” … Tickets for the Penguins’ game March 1 against Chicago at Soldier Field will be available via www.Ticketmaster.com/NHL at 11 a.m. next Wednesday.


Seth Rorabaugh contributed to this report. Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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