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Penguins coach Mike Sullivan takes steps to fix shorthanded goal problem

Jonathan Bombulie
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Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) beats Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith (1) for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Tampa, Fla.

PHILADELPHIA – After watching his team give up 12 shorthanded goals this season, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan appears to have finally reached his breaking point.

At morning skate as the Penguins prepared to take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, Sullivan had two defensemen on each power-play unit.

At first, Kris Letang and Marcus Pettersson worked with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist while Juuso Riikola and Olli Maatta worked with Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Nick Bjugstad.

Later, the defense pairs switched and worked with the opposite forward groups.

Sullivan didn’t feel the need to explain his decision in much detail. The numbers speak for themselves.

“I think it’s obvious,” Sullivan said. “I really can’t add any more to that.”

In addition to providing some defensive responsibility to each unit, the use of two defensemen will probably force the Penguins to play a little simpler game on the power play. At times, they’ll have to work to get tips, screens and rebounds of point shots rather than creatively flinging the puck around the perimeter.

“It’s getting back to those basic habits and fundamentals of the power play,” Sidney Crosby said. “Not forcing things. Just getting pucks there.”

The Penguins are 1 for 19 on the power play over their last eight games. A shorthanded goal by Anthony Cirelli was a pivotal moment in a 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

“Whoever’s out there, we know what we have to do,” Crosby said. “It’s a matter of going out there and executing.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.