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Junker: Pens need to tune up power play

| Monday, May 4, 2009

Even though the Penguins lost their opening game against Washington on Saturday, they did not appear rusty from a week off. In fact, they may have blown their chance to win the game when they thoroughly dominated the first half of the first period to enjoy only a 1-0 lead. They were outshooting the Caps, 11-2, at one point.

For the game, the Penguins had 10 more shots on goal than the Caps, had a slight advantage in face-off wins, were much quicker to the puck and drew more penalties.

They were also the better team on five-on-five situations. So, does that mean they will fare well if they keep playing the same way in the series or does it mean they blew a golden opportunity to win a game when they mostly outplayed the Caps?

The Flyers team they eliminated in the first round know how that feels, and they are playing golf.

In that series, an incredible save by Marc-Andre Fleury on Jeff Carter in the third period of Game 2 was an early turning point. Could Simeon Varlamov's sick stick save on Sidney Crosby late in the second period of Game 1 prove to be the same in this series?

The Penguins should have gone into the second intermission with a lead. Instead, they fell behind shortly after the third period started.

Of course, it's easy to note the difference in the game.

The Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play and the Pens were 0 for 5. Even if the Caps two chances came together on a five-on-three, you can't blame the officials. They were bad penalties by Sergei Gonchar — for flipping the puck over the glass from his own zone — and Matt Cook — for a neutral zone retaliation against Alex Ovechkin while killling a penalty.

It was the kind of undisciplined play that doomed the Flyers in the first series.

Take one thing as a certainty from Game 1. The Pens will have a hard time advancing if they don't find their power play soon. They are now 1 for 23 in their last five playoff games.

· Getting off to a good start in the playoffs is huge, and the Pens did that with an early Sidney Crosby goal Saturday. But the Detroit Red Wings have perfected the art. They don't have to worry about coming back too often in the playoffs. They have won the first game of seven-straight series. That is the longest current streak in the NHL and the longest streak in the league in 15 years since Dallas won the first game of seven-straight from 1990-94. Not only do the Red Wings rarely trail in a playoff series, this year, they weren't behind in a game until Corey Perry scored the first goal Friday night for Anaheim in a 3-2 Wings win. Perhaps, most impressive and most imortant, they have started 18-straight playoff series at home. That is an NHL record. And the top-seeded Sharks first-round loss to Anaheim may have paved the Wings' way back to the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks could have at least forced the Wings to open a series on the road for the first time in a long time.

· Joe Paterno is right about wanting the Big Ten Conference to add a team and hold a conference championship game. But he is wrong in suggesting Pitt among the schools the conference should consider adding. Pitt would have no reason to leave the Big East. It is way too good of a basketball conference and Pitt is a big part of that. But Big Ten officials do need to realize that it's the 21st century. From both a football and publicity standpoint, it's bad for Big Ten teams to be off for such a long time between their final regular season games and bowl games.

· Speaking of streaks, the Pirates' 18-straight losses in Milwaukee's Miller Park are almost a statistical impossibility. The last time the Pirates lost 18 straight games in one park was 1939-40 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

· If I were the locker room attendant assigned to putting toothpaste on A-Rod's toothbrush for him, I'd be sure there would be more than just toothpaste applied before he used it.

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