Penguins-Hurricanes Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins remain one of the NHL's best teams on the power play, but they haven't always benefited from that success because of the many power-play opportunities they surrender.

Jordan Staal surely would like to take advantage of one.

Pittsburgh will try to maintain better discipline Thursday night when it travels to play the Carolina Hurricanes, who hope Staal can lead them to victory in his first game against his old team.

The Penguins (13-7-0) weren't a very highly penalized team last season, finishing 16th in the NHL as they were short-handed an average of 3.3 times per game. They've already been down a man 80 times in 20 games this season, and their 84:54 of time on the penalty kill is among the league's highest totals.

"We have to do a better job of staying out of the box," Sidney Crosby told the team's official website. "I think that's pretty clear."

They haven't been able to weather opponents' power plays nearly as well, either. Pittsburgh finished third last season, killing 87.8 percent of power plays, but that number has fallen to 78.8 percent this winter.

The loss of Staal could have something to do with that drop-off considering he was one of the Penguins' top penalty killers. He turned down a 10-year extension with Pittsburgh after last season and would get traded to the Hurricanes, with whom he signed a 10-year deal worth $60 million.

Staal has been featured on both special-teams units for Carolina, though he's gone 39 straight regular-season games without a power-play goal. Staal, drafted second overall in 2006 by Pittsburgh, does have three goals in the last six games after scoring one through his first 12 in a Carolina uniform. He recorded 248 points in six seasons with the Penguins, helping them win a Stanley Cup title in 2009.

Pittsburgh appears to be a title contender again, tied for the second-most points (26) in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins had won five of six before a 6-4 loss at Florida on Tuesday, allowing four goals on seven power plays by a Panthers team which had been 0 for 17 over its previous five games.

"I think we have to adjust a bit," said Crosby, who has 13 points in his last seven games. "Most of the penalties were penalties. I think they were probably the result of the way we were playing."

Twelve of Crosby's league-leading 30 points have come on Pittsburgh's power play, which has scored at least one goal in 12 straight games. The Penguins are 16 for 48 in that span and at 27.8 percent overall, though that unit will be missing Evgeni Malkin (concussion) for a third straight game after he was placed on injured reserve Monday.

Pittsburgh's power play could face a tough test against Carolina, which has yielded one goal in 18 short-handed situations over the past five games.

The Hurricanes (9-8-1), though, have dropped four of those games, a slump that coincides with the absence of Jeff Skinner (concussion). The club has nine goals in five games since losing Skinner, who is tied for third on the team with 14 points.

Carolina also has been missing injured defenseman Jamie McBain in the last four.

"Fatigue kicks in," coach Kirk Muller said after a 3-0 loss at Washington on Tuesday. "Some guys are playing more minutes than they probably should, and it catches up."

Also hurting Muller's team is a slump by Staal's older brother. Captain Eric Staal has two points in the past five games after recording 17 during an 8-2-1 surge.

He's pointless in the last three meetings with Pittsburgh - all Carolina losses.