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Rossi: Pens sticking to power-play plan

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 9:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang plays against the Red Wings in April 2014 at Consol Energy Center.

Kris Letang expects to play better in Game 2, but that might not mean much when it comes to how the Penguins work their power play. That is because the power-play plan never changed during a Stanley Cup playoffs opening win against Columbus on Wednesday night.

“It's something we've done all year — switch off our point guys,” defenseman Paul Martin said Friday after he and Letang practiced on a second power-play unit at Consol Energy Center.

Matt Niskanen was on the top power play. That look — him on the right point opposite center Evgeni Malkin — is one of “three and maybe four” the Penguins planned to use against Columbus, coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins once envisioned Letang as the power-play quarterback heir to Sergei Gonchar, who ran the man-advantage attack from 2005-10. This regular season, however, they routinely rotated Letang and Martin on the right point on the top unit when both players were healthy — an occurrence in only 22 games — and Niskanen became a regular in that spot in the second half.

Niskanen and Letang provided a right-handed shot option. Regular power-play forwards — Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Chris Kunitz — each are left-handed shots.

Later in Game 1, Bylsma used Niskanen and Martin on the points, moving Malkin up, after a short-handed goal by Columbus center Derek MacKenzie early in the second period. Letang said MacKenzie's scoring chance was partially set up because of a bad bounce the puck took when he tried to control it on his stick blade.

The Penguins' power play scored twice in Game 1, bringing its man-advantage total to seven in six games dating to the regular season.

A particular dynamic that proves challenging for opponents is that the Penguins' power play does not use a lot of set plays — even off offensive-zone faceoffs.

“We have no set play, really,” Niskanen said. “Some teams have a sequence for how they want to move the puck. With us, sometimes Sid will set up something on his own, but even that is rare.

“We don't even have a spot where to be on the ice until we get possession.”

The power play works best, Niskanen and Martin said, when a couple of quick passes turn into shots. Often, those come from the points — hence the different power-play looks.

Niskanen's slap shot is hard. Letang's half-slapper is a quick release. Martin has Gonchar's knack for getting the puck through traffic. Malkin can blow a puck past a goalie, but also deke a penalty killer then find an open shooter.

The Penguins believe all of those elements make their power play, ranked No. 1 in the regular season, work. Their playoff plan was always to work all of those elements in.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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