Pens' line changes have seemingly paid off

| Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

OTTAWA — Former Penguins coach Michel Therrien was regularly roasted for the constant line shuffling that become a trademark of his when the team struggled.

Funny thing is, Dan Bylsma isn't shy about switching line combinations even when things are going well. Lately, in fact, he has seemed rather infatuated with the idea.

The Penguins seemingly had a different line on the ice at every juncture of their 5-2 victory over Toronto Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

So, was Bylsma's constant line juggling planned or simply the result of numerous Penguins seeing penalty time because of the constant skirmishing that took place?

"A little bit of both," Bylsma said with a grin.

The Penguins started the game with Sidney Crosby anchoring a line that included wingers Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Crosby would see some shifts with regular linemates Chris Kuntiz and Bill Guerin, but also found himself skating with Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Rupp, Craig Adams, Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Malkin and Eric Godard at different points.

Godard's presence on the top line, of course, can largely be attributed to the fact that Toronto's behavior Saturday largely resembled something out of the movie "Slap Shot." Still, the constant line changing was noticeable.

"There are a lot of things that go into it," Bylsma said. "Part of it was who we had in the penalty box and who was available. But the fact of the matter is, there are some people who are playing so well that they deserve more ice time."

Bylsma didn't mention any names, but he might as well have been talking about Jordan Staal. Although the 21-year-old center still sees the majority of his time on the third line with Kennedy and Cooke, his role is clearly increasing.

Also, there is rather compelling evidence that Staal's long-awaited ascent into a top-notch goal scorer can be triggered simply by playing on Malkin's line.

Staal scored on a Malkin feed for the second straight game Saturday, and the two figure to see regular action together.

"I don't have a problem with that," Staal said. "It was a long time ago that I was on his line every game. That was three years ago, pretty much for the whole second half of the season. But I still remember how to play with him and I love playing with him. Who wouldn't?"

Staal has also been seeing occasional time in front of the net with the first power play.

Bylsma rarely changed lines during the Penguins' Stanley Cup run last spring with Crosby, Malkin and Staal exclusively centering the top three units.

Staal thinks learning to play with other players can be beneficial and doesn't require a steady diet of the same linemates.

"I actually like it sometimes," Staal said. "You never know when you're going to play with a certain guy in the future. It's good to know everyone's game, and I think it can probably make us harder to defend at times."

Toronto coach Ron Wilson wouldn't disagree with those sentiments. The Penguins threw different combinations at the Maple Leafs throughout Saturday's game and dominated in almost every facet.

"Obviously there's a lot of talent on that team," Wilson said. "That's a lot of firepower on all of those lines."

No matter which way they might be configured.

Line by line

Penguins first five shifts in Toronto:

· Matt Cooke-Sidney Crosby-Tyler Kennedy

· Chris Kunitz-Jordan Staal-Bill Guerin

· Ruslan Fedotenko-Evgeni Malkin-Pascal Dupus

· Chris Kuntiz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin

· Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy

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