Penguins' struggles continue on power-play chances



NEW YORK -- There's not one reason the Penguins haven't been able to put away the New York Rangers.

But a good place to start might be their power play.

The Penguins were 0 for 4 with a man-advantage in Game 6 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden in a 3-1 loss that left this Eastern Conference second-round playoff series headed to a deciding Game 7 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

For the series, the Penguins are 1 for 19 on the power play (5.2 percent).

Two of their power plays Sunday were abbreviated because of staggered penalties. They had six shots in 6:03 of power-play time.

"The first one, we did some really good things -- we had a lot of movement, kept a couple of pucks alive, had some shots and we covered them," point man Matt Niskanen said of a power play the Penguins got at 11:20 of the first period when New York's Chris Kreider was penalized for roughing.

The Penguins had three shots on that power play.

The Penguins ended the regular season tied for first in the NHL on the power play at 23.4 percent -- although taking it out to further fractions, they finished ahead of Washington. In their opening-round series against Columbus, the Penguins were 6 of 29 (20.6 percent) on the power play.

Their only power-play goal in the Rangers series to this point was scored by Jussi Jokinen in Game 2, a 3-0 Penguins win.

The Penguins made a personnel change on the power play for Game 6, putting Evgeni Malkin on the right point opposite Niskanen and promoting James Neal from the second unit to the first unit. For some time, the Penguins had been using defensemen at both points.

The other forwards on the top unit Sunday were Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

"I kind of like the way that look is for us, especially against the Rangers," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Asked before Game 6 how to improve the power play, Bylsma cracked, "Get [Chris Kunitz] out of the way," alluding to a power-play shot in Game 5 that might have gone in had it not hit Kunitz in front of the net.

Of course, being in front of the net is one of Kunitz's prime assignments on the power play, to screen or tip shots, but the Penguins haven't been able to make good use of him in that role this series.

"When you have [Kunitz] standing in front like that and you have motion and guys shooting and we have a chance at a couple of rebounds, we're doing the right things then," Niskanen said.

The Penguins didn't build off of what they thought was a good initial power play.

"The next couple weren't as clean," Niskanen said. "We didn't enter the [offensive] zone quite as clean. They started pressuring a little bit more."

The Rangers don't have a novel approach to killing penalties, just an effective one.

"When we're at our best as a penalty-kill, we're all working together," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "The biggest thing is recognizing when a good opportunity is to pressure and get into a battle in the corner and make a good little pass from the corner to the guy in the middle. We've been able to do that, for the most part, pretty well.

"They kind of move around a lot. The biggest thing for us is making sure they don't break in clean. And if they dump it in, make sure we win that race."

The penalty-killers might have gotten the Penguins' best chances as far as special teams in Game 6.

In the second period, Marcel Goc got a short-handed breakaway.

His backhanded shot hit the upper edge of New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's glove, then bounced off the crossbar. It was so close to being a goal that Goc started to raise his arms.

Later in the second, Brian Gibbons got a shorter breakaway and forced Lundqvist to make a good save, squeezing the puck between his pads and even looking behind him to see if the puck squirted through and into the net.

If either of those chances had resulted in a goal, it would have pulled the Penguins into a 2-2 tie.

Then again, if the Penguins had produced more on a power play that has struggled, they might have been in a handshake line by now.

"The bottom line is it comes down to results," Niskanen said.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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