If there’s one thing we learned from Wednesday’s Pittsburgh Penguins win over Montreal – besides that Habs defenseman Andrei Markov isn’t long for the NHL – it’s that styles matter when it comes to line chemistry.
The Penguins’ unit of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jussi Jokinen was at its weaving, circling best against the Canadiens, combining for three goals and three assists, all at even strength, and 10 non-blocked shooting attempts overall.
Beyond the box score, that trio also seemed to generate a decent scoring chance every time it was on the ice. Much of that can be attributed to Malkin, who was in otherworldly form Wednesday night, but the line’s effectiveness also speaks to how well Jokinen and Neal can read and react to Malkin’s freelancing tendencies.
On the other hand, Sidney Crosby‘s line was noticeably less cohesive. While No. 87 fired a game-high six shots on goal and scored on a deft tip during a second-period power play, he was frequently forced to create something from nothing during 5-on-5 action.
Crosby, who was paired with usual left winger Chris Kunitz, still managed to be the Penguins’ best Corsi player at even strength (62.1 percent), but taking alternating shifts with the ineffective Chuck Kobasew and the lumbering Taylor Pyatt didn’t help his chances.
Speaking of possession stats, Jayson Megna proved productive against Montreal, running up a 58.3 percent Corsi rating in just 7 1/2 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. The speedy rookie skated mostly on the fourth line, where he helped Craig Adams and Deryk Engelland control the play a bit better than they usually do.
Megna also played with Crosby and Kunitz on a few shifts, which is where his talents would appear to serve the Penguins best. Megna’s first two NHL points came alongside Crosby in a win at Carolina in late October, and the two play hockey in a similarly rapid, linear fashion.
So does Kunitz, which is why he and Crosby have meshed so well and are presumed to be automatic linemates for Team Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Since Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season to a knee injury a few weeks ago, the right wing position on Crosby’s line has been in flux. Fellow rookie Brian Gibbons was handling the job well until he suffered a lower-body ailment, but until he returns to health, Megna should get a multi-game audition on Crosby’s flank.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (35-13-2, 72 points – 1st Metropolitan) at Islanders (21-24-7, 48 points – 8th Metro) at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, with Root Sports Pittsburgh handling the TV broadcast in the Pittsburgh market and NBC Sports Network airing the game elsewhere. 105.9 The X has the radio call as always.
First-year Penguin Jeff Zatkoff will start in net in the second leg of a back-to-back situation, and Zach Sill was sent back to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday morning. In a corresponding roster move, forward Andrew Ebbett was activated from the disabled list.
Pittsburgh is 2-1 against the Islanders this season, including a 3-2 overtime victory Dec. 3 that ended on this spectacular Crosby offering:
This is the final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. Each matchup so far has been decided by a single goal, with the Islanders winning 4-3 on Oct. 25 and the Pens answering back by the same score Nov. 22.