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Penguins Make More Power Play Changes; Letang Promoted



Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson
Kris Letang, right, and Erik Karlsson

The Pittsburgh Penguins circled back to an earlier look on their unproductive power play Sunday during practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Sort of.

The Penguins deployed top defensemen Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang together on the top unit, along with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. It was a different setup from when those two defensemen were on the top unit early in the season.

Sunday, Letang manned the blue line, primarily as a center point man, with Karlsson on the left side, rather than the two of them both working up top.

“We’re trying to effect some change to try to get some momentum here, get some traction and bring some solutions to the table,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Boy, are those needed.

The Pittsburgh Penguins rank 29th in the NHL, converting on 10.9 percent of their power-play chances.

Their ongoing drought covers 10 games, an 0-for-27 stretch, including 0-for-5 Saturday in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It appears the Penguins will at least start out with the new look on any power plays they get Monday in the second half of a home-and-home series with the Flyers.

The second unit Sunday featured Marcus Pettersson, Bryan Rust, Reilly Smith, Lars Eller and Jeff Carter.

They have tried different looks and strategies, including briefly separating Crosby and Malkin onto different units, but the experimenting – and the struggles – persist.

“Right now we’re trying a little bit more of a one-timer lineup,” Karlsson said. “Obviously, (Letang) has been up there for a long time.

“We’re both righties. It just gives us maybe a little bit more of an opportunity to shoot some quality shots when we get in positions to. We’re going to try it out. Obviously, it hasn’t gone the way we wanted. We’re going to keep trying, and we’re going to keep trying until we get it right.”

Karlsson, who won the Norris Trophy last season with San Jose in racking up 101 points, has not traditionally been a one-timer specialist, but Sullivan said the Penguins trust their top players to be proficient in whatever area the team needs.

“That’s one of the reasons why we explored that option in practice (Sunday),” Sullivan said.

Karlsson is game.

“I think I’ve been a little bit of everywhere. … I try to do what I think is right out there, give the puck to the guy that is open,” he said, also noting that the new alignment is “going to give our breakout a little bit of a different look.”

Karlsson, Sullivan and Letang all agreed that despite the 0-for-5 showing – plus giving up a shorthanded goal – Saturday, the power play looked better. That included an abundance of offensive zone time.

“If we stick with it like that, I think that we’re going to come away with better results moving forward,” Karlsson said. “We can’t get antsy if we don’t score.

“If we get to 20 percent, that’s a pretty good power play, if we have one goal in every five. (Saturday), we had five and we didn’t score one.”

A 20 percent success rate would elevate the Penguins to about 17th in the league at the moment, but it would seemingly take some work to nearly double their success rate.

Letang shrugged off the new alignment.

“It’s just kind of a different look right now of who’s where, different type of players in different spots,” he said. “We’re right there. We’re doing a lot of different things. If you take apart our power play as a whole, the only thing that is missing is a goal.”

Of course, that’s a pretty big missing part.

Acciari, Nieto Updates

Sullivan had no new information on injured forwards Noel Acciari and Matt Nieto, who did not practice after missing Saturday’s game.

Both are still being evaluated for unspecified injuries, Sullivan said,

All other expected players were on the ice for practice Monday.

Injured Penguins Rickard Rakell and Chad Ruhwedel skated before practice.