Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Islanders extended the Penguins’ win streak to 15 games, but it wasn’t the prettiest display of hockey ever seen.
Sidney Crosby’s sustaining a broken jaw when drilled by a deflected shot would qualify as ugly, as would much of the line mixing coach Dan Bylsma was forced into with the team missing its No. 1 center.
The Pittsburgh debut of Jarome Iginla was also less than beautiful, with the 16-year NHL veteran struggling to adjust to a left-wing assignment after playing his whole career on the right side of the ice. During Saturday’s game, Iginla and fellow wing James Neal were frequently seen discussing tactics between shifts on Evgeni Malkin’s flanks.
The Iginla-Malkin-Neal trio did seem to play more cohesively in the third period, culminating in Neal’s clinching goal off the rush. The three also put in solid offensive zone time while cycling down low.
Following Sunday’s scheduled off day, it appears Bylsma will keep that line together, albeit with an adjustment. As reported by Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Neal practiced on the left wing Monday at Consol Energy Center, with Iginla on Malkin’s right.
Neal arrived in Pittsburgh two years ago as a left wing, but the Penguins shifted him to the right side in the fall of 2011 after looking at an extensive analysis of the scoring chances he was most likely to convert. Neal has blossomed into an all-NHL first-teamer on the right side, netting 40 goals last year and 18 in 36 games in 2013.
That wasn’t the only change made to accommodate Iginla. According to the Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari, Iginla manned one of the points during power-play drills, a spot he rarely (if ever) played during his time in Calgary. Defenseman Matt Niskanen was on the other point, with Neal, Malkin and Chris Kunitz up front.
It figured to be only a matter of time before the sharpshooting Iginla found his way onto the Penguins’ No. 1 man-advantage unit, but placing the big winger on the blue line is a bit surprising.
In the not-surprising-at-all category, Crosby was named the NHL’s first star of March. While the Penguins went 15-0-0 in the month, No. 87 put up six goals, 19 assists and a plus-19 rating, with the latter two totals leading the league.
As of Monday afternoon, Crosby was still in the hospital after spending the night at UPMC Presbyterian. Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Crosby still hasn’t shown any signs of a concussion, which was a concern after the 25-year-old center’s recent lengthy battle with brain injury symptoms.