Pittsburgh Penguins Should Have Urgency To Upgrade Top Two Lines


Nov 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) passes to left wing Blake Comeau (17) against the New York Islanders during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Islanders won 5-4 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing weekend against the Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins shuffled their top two forward lines at Monday’s morning skate in Boston.

According to the Penguins’ website, coach Mike Johnston is going with the following trios for tonight’s game against the Bruins, at least to start:

Nick SpalingSidney CrosbyPatric Hornqvist
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinBlake Comeau

Not only will this mark the first time in recent memory that Kunitz and Crosby will play on separate lines, it also reunites Hornqvist and Crosby, who were very successful at generating chances and points in the first month of the season.

Another interesting aspect of this change is the Kunitz-Malkin combination, which formed two-thirds the NHL’s deadliest line in 2011-12. With James Neal on one side and Kunitz on the other, Malkin won the scoring title (50g, 59a) and earned his lone Hart Trophy for league MVP, while Kunitz had 61 points.

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But even though these adjustments are intriguing in their own ways, the fact that Spaling and Comeau are making up one-third of the top six squelches any real enthusiasm. Spaling and Comeau were acquired this summer to bolster the Pens’ forward depth – and they have – but they are grossly miscast in scoring-line roles.

With Pascal Dupuis out for the season and Beau Bennett still on the third line for whatever reason, there should be some urgency for general manager Jim Rutherford to add some legitimate talent to his corps of forwards.

Yes, there are still more than 60 games to play in the regular season, but I’d have to imagine it’s only a matter of time before Crosby and Malkin start to wonder when and if the help is coming.

Judging by his lackluster effort over the weekend, Crosby may already be at that stage, while Malkin loses Hornqvist just a few games into their stint together. Remember that Malkin had good reason to believe Hornqvist was brought in to take Neal’s old position on No. 71’s flank.

I do give credit to Johnston for being willing to experiment with line combinations so freely, but there’s only so much he can do with the limited talent available beyond Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz and Hornqvist. Elevating Bennett would fill one of the holes, although it would simply open another on a third line that has been terrific so far.

For the Penguins, the answer doesn’t lie within. The sooner Rutherford can supplement his team via trade, the better for all involved.