Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Second-Line Centerman?

While there was a major unveiling in Pittsburgh today, the news that had everyone in awe was that of Penguins star Sidney Crosby announcing that he was fit to play and would be returning to the line-up in the near future. The Mario Lemieux statue is a great honour for the man credited with saving the franchise a number of times, but Sidney Crosby's news just breathed new life into the Penguins' playoff aspirations, and I'm quite sure that adding a player back of Crosby's caliber will be a boost for the Penguins as they look to secure the fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference.

When you have a player of Crosby's talent and skill who has sat out for the majority of the season, you have to think that he's gone a bit stir-crazy when it comes to playing the game he loves. He has watched from the press box, he has participated in non-contact drills, and he's been around the team, but it's just not the same as actually getting into game action and getting your hands dirty.

The fact that the Penguins are getting an all-world talent back who is well-rested and highly-motivated should have some teams scared. The Malkin-Neal-Kunitz line has been en fuego for some time, and there's reason to believe that trio will slow down. Malkin, for his part, has rocketed up the scoring leaderboard, and looks poised to be a favorite for the Hart Trophy this season.

The Penguins are playing some very good hockey. They have won seven in a row, including tonight's affair against the fading Maple Leafs, and have overtaken the Philadelphia Flyers for fourth-place in the Eastern Conference. Strong goaltending, timely goal-scoring, and above-average replacements for injured players have the Penguins poised to finish the season on a high. Adding Crosby? That's just another weapon in their arsenal, and one that is relishing the opportunity to jump back into action.

When Crosby returned on November 21 from his concussion, he lit up the New York Islanders for four points, including a pair of goals. He looked fresh and rested, and really showed his work ethic as he out-muscled and out-hustled the Islanders for the vast majority of the night.

While getting Crosby back at such a critical time should help the Penguins, it brings up a very interesting question: where do you slot the superstar in when the team is playing so well?

The Malkin-Neal-Kunitz line should, in my opinion, remain as the Penguins' top unit. They have proven they have a great chemistry while carrying the Penguins on nights. They have seen the opposition's best defensive units regularly, and they haven't had much problem exploiting those units.

Jordan Staal is playing on the second line with Steve Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis, and he might be the best option to move. Staal is currently on the second powerplay unit alongside Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. Kennedy and Cooke are currently third-line linemates with Joe Vitale in the middle. If Staal bumped Vitale on that third line, that would create a great third option for Dan Bylsma that has already has chemistry and scoring potential while still being a difficult line to play against in the Penguins' zone.

Steve Sullivan has good enough hands that he should be able to convert setups from Crosby. Pascal Dupuis is a great grinder along the wall, but he has shown flashes of scoring brilliance when given the opportunity. Crosby has the ability to open up room and make plays on his own, so combining his talents with those of Sullivan and Dupuis should make a solid second unit.

The abundance of talent that the Penguins possess will have to be managed by Dan Bylsma to ensure that Crosby gets the right fit back into a team that is currently steamrolling their opponents. But when you think about it, Crosby hasn't endured a season of punishment and he is extremely well-rested. Adding a piece like him to an already-talented team should make the Penguins a formidable foe in the Eastern Conference that's up for grabs.

His hunger and drive might be enough to carry the Penguins to the Stanley Cup once again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Dr. Pete said...

Crosby is a game changer, and when he's healthy, turns the Penguins from possible Cup contenders to definite Cup contenders. We've seen what the Pens are minus both Malkin and Crosby, and that's because Fleury became a consistent force. All three in the same lineup bringing their A-game every night is a very dangerous proposition for any opponent, and that could very well happen come playoff time.