When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired 500-goal power forward Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames at the NHL trade deadline, it seemed natural he would fit right in on Sidney Crosby’s right wing, reprising his role with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But while that combination was literally golden in Vancouver, it hasn’t shown enough effectiveness for Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s liking. It appears that after three games playing together, Crosby and Iginla will be split up for Friday’s Game 2 against the Ottawa Senators.
The first hint of a move came late in Game 1 on Tuesday night, as Chris Kunitz was reunited with Crosby and Pascal Dupuis in the third period of the Penguins’ 4-1 win. As a result, Iginla was inserted on Evgeni Malkin’s right flank, with James Neal on the left side.
According to the Penguins’ website, those threesomes were kept together for Thursday’s team practice at Consol Energy Center, which also featured “minor tweaks” to the top power-play unit, as Neal and Iginla split time with Malkin, Kunitz, Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang during 5-on-4 drills.
As far as the even-strength lines go, it’s difficult to argue with the results Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis generated during the regular season. Before Crosby missed the last 12 games with a broken jaw, all three were in the top 15 on the league scoring list.
“I think that everyone’s comfortable,” Crosby told the media after practice. “We’ve been in different situations with injuries and playing with different guys. We just need to make sure we’re doing our job. Usually there is kind of a message or a certain tone behind that to kind of pick things up.”
Crosby may have a point there. The Penguins have scored nine of their 29 playoff goals on the power play and their 36 percent conversion rate figures to drop a bit at some point. Still, Iginla and Crosby connected for critical goals in Games 5 and 6 against the New York Islanders and generated some great chances in the early stages of Game 1.
Another concern is Neal’s efficacy on the left wing. Since the Penguins moved him to the right side in the fall of 2011, he’s averaged a goal every two games. Positioning is fluid in hockey, but those numbers speak volumes.
“I played with [Iginla] a bit before I got hurt,” said Neal about early April, before he sustained a concussion. “We’ll be good. We’re just going to get our chemistry going here. We’ve talked a little bit about what we need to do to get better as a line.”
As expected, Iginla took a carefree approach to the situation.
“I’ve been very lucky to get a chance to play with [Crosby] and [Malkin] and enjoy every shift out there with them,” he said. “The lines do shake up quite a bit…so we’re prepared with whatever the dynamic is.”
The Penguins’ defense pairings stayed the same as Game 1, with Simon Despres, Mark Eaton and Robert Bortuzzo projecting to be in the press box for Friday’s Game 2. Up front, Jussi Jokinen, Tanner Glass, Beau Bennett and Dustin Jeffrey again found themselves outside the top four lines.