Penguins want to power up

| Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alex Kovalev has been in the NHL for almost two decades and has seen his share of good and bad power plays.

His thoughts on his new team's efforts in that department should alleviate concerns that ineffectiveness will haunt the Penguins in the postseason. Kovalev expects the power play to click soon.

"It's coming," he said.

The Penguins have worked more than usual on their power play in recent practices — and for good reason. They have scored only once in the past nine games with the man advantage — going 1 for 28, a meager 3.6 percent — and endured a 90-second five-on-three advantage Tuesday against Buffalo that did not yield a legitimate scoring opportunity.

"When you look at the clock and you have over a minute of a five-on-three, that's a real opportunity to get a goal," coach Dan Bylsma said. "When you don't take advantage of it, that can be deflating."

The Penguins have adopted a patient approach, believing the team's new pieces eventually will help the power play.

"We were getting good looks," left wing James Neal said. "The talent is here to have a great power play. We work on it a lot, and we're doing the right things. Once we start getting some bounces, the puck will start going in."

If the unit is to improve, Kovalev figures to be a factor. The veteran's one-timer, passing touch and ability to skate the puck through the neutral zone are significant assets. He can play the point or along the right-wing boards and doesn't particularly care where he is positioned.

"It doesn't really matter," he said. "At this point, you can be set up anywhere, and you're always moving around. The power play is almost like playing five-on-five these days. Teams put so much pressure on that you can't just stand still in one place."

There has been an adjustment period. Kovalev's penchant for slowing play to a standstill and his ability to complete passes that others wouldn't even attempt have turned the power play into a learning process. Only now are the Penguins beginning to understand how Kovalev can augment their man advantage.

"It's different now with the new guys," left wing Chris Kunitz said. "The first game Kovy came in, he gave us a puck possession element that we just hadn't had for a while. It has definitely taken a little bit of time to read him."

The Penguins have searched for power-play formulas without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and likely will attempt a simple approach. Neal and Kunitz, who score most of their goals from close range, could see time on the top unit today against Montreal, with Kovalev and defenseman Kris Letang manning the points. Kovalev and Letang have powerful shots and likely will be asked to shoot frequently, setting up Neal and Kunitz for rebound opportunities.

"We do a good job of going to those tough areas, and that's what we need to do," Kunitz said.

A successful power play can make or break a postseason run, but Kovalev is hardly panicking.

"It's one thing if you can't even get the puck in the zone, but we are creating a lot of chances," he said. "We just have to start capitalizing."

Additional Information:

Power outage

Breaking down the Penguins' power-play woes:

Conversion rate: 16.7 percent

NHL rank through Thursday: 19th

Past nine games: 1 for 28

Games without a power-play goal this season: 39 (of 68)

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