Penguins notebook: Winger Dominik Simon fitting in on top line
Mike Sullivan never is shy about shaking up his line combinations, especially when his team is in a scoring slump, so there's no guarantee the trios the team practiced with Friday will last the first period of Saturday's game against Arizona.
While they do stick together, though, there are three players in interesting spots in the lineup.
Dominik Simon remains on the right side of the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Since Simon was called up, he has two assists in three games and has the best shot-attempt stats on the team.
“He's really smart,” Crosby said. “He's got good hands. He can make those plays in tight, those little plays, give-and-goes and things like that. I think the biggest thing is his hockey sense and the plays he can make.”
Bryan Rust, a right-handed shot, is playing the left side on the fourth line with Carter Rowney and Ryan Reaves. Rust has found himself in the top six pretty frequently this year, but Sullivan didn't classify putting him on his off wing on the fourth line as a demotion.
“Listen, I love Rusty's game,” Sullivan said. “He can skate. He's an energy guy. He brings our team speed to another level when he's at his best, and we're trying to help him get there.”
Finally, right-handed shooter Patric Hornqvist remains on the left side of the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Hornqvist's results in that spot in a 2-1 loss to Vegas on Thursday night were mixed at best.
“It felt fine. That's fine,” Hornqvist said. “We just have to be better as a team and play harder and create more chances up front.”
Study and swagger
Sullivan's recipe Thursday for snapping the Penguins out of a slump that has seen them lose four of their last five games included a delicate balance. He wanted them to study their mistakes in a pre-practice video meeting, but he didn't want them to wallow in their skid.
“We had a film session this morning, trying to … give them clear evidence and why we think the way we think,” Sullivan said. “But I do think the areas we have to continue to improve at, we can. We're capable, and we believe in this group that we have.
“It's important for us right now to stay resilient from an attitude standpoint and make sure we keep some confidence and swagger about us.”
One of the most curious elements of the Penguins' current slump is that even while they've been losing, their shot-based stats have looked fine.
The current skid started with a 4-3 home loss to the Rangers on Dec. 5. Since that night, the Penguins' shot-attempt percentage of 57.1 is tops in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the league.
Shot-attempt percentage is generally considered a strong predictor of future goal-scoring success.
“I think we've played better than our record,” Sullivan said. “There are some encouraging aspects of our game that we know if we continue to stay with it in certain areas, we think we'll get some results here.”