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Bylsma mulls power-play options

Penguins/NHL Videos

Thursday, March 15, 2012

If you believe centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should play on the right halfwall on separate power-play units, forget about it.

It's not going to happen.

"I think we've always felt," coach Dan Bylsma said, "and do feel and strongly feel -- all of us -- that having the two best players (on the ice) is the best thing for us to have success."

Bylsma said he will tinker with the power play between now and the postseason, but one point was clear: Crosby and Malkin will be on the top unit, starting tonight for the Penguins' showdown against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"Having the two best players on the ice sounds like a good thing to do," Bylsma said Wednesday.

The Penguins laugh at the suggestion that Crosby and Malkin should have separate power-play units. Having them on the ice, while the opposition is out-manned, is what the Penguins believe will produce the most success.

"Anyone can fill in at any spot for us," left wing Chris Kunitz said. "We just need to keep it simple, no matter who is on the ice. We just need to find open guys and shoot. That's how we've been successful."

Given that Crosby and Malkin will be available tonight -- and it appears likely that defenseman Kris Letang will play, too -- someone has to be the odd man out, and that would be left wing Steve Sullivan. The Penguins' power play has hovered around the 20 percent mark all season, and many in the organization credit Sullivan.

"Our power play has been fairly successful this year," Bylsma said. "A large part of that is due to how we bring the puck up the ice. That has solely been the responsibility of Steve Sullivan this year. At the beginning of the year, that assignment was Sidney Crosby and Steve Sullivan together."

Without Crosby in the lineup, Sullivan thrived in that role. He, Letang and Malkin gave the Penguins options when bringing the puck into the opponent's zone, but Sullivan will cede those duties to Crosby.

"Sidney Crosby's going to be a little bit on the point," Bylsma said. "If he's not out there with Steve Sullivan, he'll be bringing the puck up like Steve does."

This is a change from Crosby's previous role on the power play, and more alterations are coming. Bylsma clearly is in the mood to experiment -- now that he has his entire roster at his disposal for the first time in two years.

"In the next eight games, we'll see five forwards (on the ice together)," he said. "We know what Steve has done for our power play. He'll be one of the top six guys."

Right wing James Neal has been among the league leaders in power-play goals all season. When Crosby returned in November, Neal moved from this post down low to the front of the net. This time, Kunitz will remain in front of the net while Malkin and Neal cycle and position themselves for one-timers from the right side.

"Having Sid back won't be much of a change for me on the power play," Neal said. "I'm not changing positions this time. I just need to be more alert for deflections and stuff like that, because you know he'll get you the puck a lot."




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