COLUMBUS -- Not sure that "puzzler" even begins to describe the current state of offensive affairs for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their roster of elite goal producers.
But the black and the white of it is this: through the last seven playoff games, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and captain Sidney Crosby have combined to score (wait for it) zero postseason goals.
The big egg.
Still, the Penguins are up 2-1 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Columbus Blue Jackets despite a lack of scoring from guys whose jobs are, at least in large part, to score goals -- which is a testament to the team's depth, something critics questioned heading into the postseason.
Indeed, trailing late in the second period of Game 3 in Columbus on Monday night, it was defensive defenseman Brooks Orpik going Denis Potvin and scoring a crucial goal with 1.8 seconds left to narrow the score to 2-1.
But having success despite the big boys' drought doesn't mean that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is content to sit around and wait for the inevitable to happen. In fact, Bylsma figures that the way the goals were scored in Game 3 -- with lots of traffic around Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, and two of them ending up in the net courtesy of deflections -- is a lesson to the entire Penguins' lineup, big gun or not.
"I don't think you can wait around to quote yourself, for an opportunity or a goal to happen or lightning to strike," Bylsma said after the Penguins went through an optional skate Tuesday afternoon that saw very few regulars take part.
"The important part is exactly how they're going to come. And the goals we got last game were evidence of that.
"I don't think we can expect it to be an easy goal or a flash goal or a two-on-one and an odd-man opportunity. It's going to be dirty and ugly, and that's where we've got to go and that's where we got to get them from. That's regardless of whether it's Brandon Sutter scoring at the net or getting goals from Crosby at the net."
On the other side of the ice, or fence, Columbus coach Todd Richards understands that the math and history and just plain old logic suggests that keeping the big guns silent the longer this series goes appears to be a greater and greater challenge.
"You're right, those are great players you just named and they've obviously had great seasons and they're real important pieces on their respective team," Richards said. "It is tough to think that you're going to keep them [shut down]. I don't know if you can do that if this goes to a seven-game series. They're too good.
"One thing we have to be careful of is we've been putting these guys on the power play. We've been giving them lots of opportunities to be able to finish. The more we can make these guys play in their zone, obviously they’re 200 feet from our net and expending some energy in their own zone. So we need to continue to do that."
Indeed, the Penguins have managed to score just once in 14 power-play chances the last two games but believe the momentum they've generated on those opportunities has been crucial to leading to other scores.
"Those are dangerous guys, and we know that -- and at any moment, at any moment," Richards said. "You go back and you look at scoring chances, they're getting scoring chances, so [Sergei Bobrovsky is] making the saves or maybe we're in the right place to block a shot, so we need to continue to do those. This goes seven games, I think at some point you figure that they’re going to get one or two, but if we can keep it to a minimum, it will be in our favor."