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Bylsma makes changes to power play

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Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009

Sergei Gonchar spent most of his Monday morning sandwiched high in the offensive zone by Penguins centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, shooting pucks from the middle point toward wingers Bill Guerin and Matt Cooke, who were positioned near the goal crease.

"We'll see how we do in the game," said Gonchar, a defenseman who runs the Penguins' much maligned power play. "It doesn't matter how good you look in the morning; it only matters how you look at night."

The Penguins (22-10-1, 45 points) look like a team that can win without a productive power play, but Gonchar knows that their second-to-last 13.6 percentage won't cut it for many more nights.

"Imagine if we could score on the power play how much better we could be," he said.

Scoring more goals - starting tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers at home - is the idea behind power-play alterations put into place by head coach Dan Bylsma during practice at Mellon Arena.

Malkin was moved from the right side to the left point, leaving Gonchar the only actual defenseman on the top advantage unit. Cooke was inserted into the mix to replace Malkin, who previously was positioned below Crosby on the right half-wall.

Points without power
A look at the noteworthy power-play goal droughts by the last three NHL scoring champions over the past three seasons:

"Hopefully (opponents will) have to spread out a bit more," said Crosby, who has scored a power-play goal in only two of his past 22 games. "We're both in pretty good shooting and playmaking positions... and (we've) got Gonchar right between us.

"One of the three of us will be open."

Provided the open player can put the puck near the cage Bylsma is counting upon Cooke to bring a bunch of nastiness near the goalie.

With six goals, Cooke is on pace for 15, which would equal his career-best mark from seven seasons ago with Vancouver. He has scored 11 goals in 56 games played under Bylsma, a personal-best .20 per-game pace.

"He has shown to me so far that he has the ability to stand up there and tip pucks in," Bylsma said. "He goes to hard areas and you know he's out on the ice. He attracts attention that way."

The possible fly in this ointment for a power play that has failed to produce a goal in 19 of 33 games is Malkin, who is less than two years removed from complaining about the defensive responsibilities that come with working the left point.

He caused a controversy during the 2008 Stanley Cup Final after telling the Tribune-Review that he did not want to play the left point on the power play - a position he was assigned after the late-season return from injury by Crosby.

Apparently time has changed Malkin, whose power-play goal Saturday against Florida snapped a 10-contest drought.

"I feel comfortable with the puck," he said of the left point.

Bylsma left nothing to chance regarding the move of Malkin on the power play.

"We've talked to Geno about that before," he said. "We knew that going into the situation.

"Right now Geno... wants to be there. He likes what it offers him - the seam aspect that it provides; the opportunity to pass to Sid for a shot; and at the same time Gonchar is there."

Gonchar warned against expecting power-play positioning changes to make a difference unless the Penguins start working harder to make use of the man-advantage.

"Sometimes you just need a chance; maybe this is one of those situations," he said. "At the same time it doesn't matter how much talent you have. You have to still work hard to retrieve those pucks and get it back after you take a shot."

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