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(UPDATED) Sullivan Scrambles Power Play; Separates Crosby, Malkin



Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins made perhaps the biggest wrinkle yet on their struggling  power play, separating centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their two units at practice Thursday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Crosby was on the top unit, along with Erik Karlsson, Jake Guentzel, Vinnie Hinostroza and, at the net front, Radim Zohorna.

Malkin was on the second unit with Kris Letang, Reilly Smith, Alex Nylander and, at the net front, Jeff Carter.

It’s unknown if that is how the units will look Friday when the Penguins play at Buffalo. In fact, the last time the Penguins scored on the power play was against the Sabres Nov. 11. They have gone five subsequent games without one.

“I think we’re just looking to get a little bit of a spark maybe, get us out of this funk or whatever you call it, where we get a little more consistency,” Karlsson said.

The power play has struggled. It ranks 25th in the NHL with a 13.7 proficiency rate. The Penguins were 0 for 5 Wednesday with the man-advantage in a  1-0 loss at home against the New York Rangers.

“I think (the power play) impacts the overall game … I think it’s important that we get it going in the right direction,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Even if we don’t score, we can create momentum because our thought process, our execution is in the right place. So, when the power play struggles, it tends to affect the overall play.”

Still, Letang defended the units.

“You guys are just looking at the percentage numbers right now,” Letang said. “When you say it’s not working, we’re close. It’s not like the guys are not getting chances. They’re getting tons of chances, (hitting) posts. It’s right there.

“But sometimes you want to change it up to get a different dynamic out there, maybe simplify it, so you’ve got different guys in different spots. It’s just to spark something.”

Not that it wasn’t a priority before, but the units Thursday emphasized a net-front presence.

“I think they’re probably looking to get some more pucks down there and create some more battles, hopefully score some goals, get our groove back and take it from there,” Karlsson said.

Zohorna said moving up to the top unit wasn’t that novel, considering he has worked the net front on the second unit.

“We’re just trying to switch up units and we’ll see how it goes,” he said, adding that being on a unit with the likes of Crosby, Guentzel and Karlsson “is a good opportunity for me.”

In unrelated news, the Penguins once again recalled forward Jansen Harkins from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, less than 24 hours after he was sent down. He has been serving as a sort of safety net, moving back and forth between the Penguins and WBS but has not gotten into a game since his initial assignment to WBS last month.