Penguins' Malkin, Neal looking for help from linemates
Center Evgeni Malkin won the Hart and Art Ross trophies last season. Right wing James Neal ascended to stardom by scoring 40 goals.
Playing with the duo would seem like a convenient way to pad a player's point totals.
The opposite has transpired this season.
Through 13 games, the player on Malkin's left wing — there have been five — hasn't registered a single point.
Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, Tanner Glass and Zach Boychuk have seen considerable time on Malkin's line, and none has produced a point.
Tyler Kennedy has two points this season, but neither was recorded with Malkin or Neal on the ice.
The revolving door of linemates for Malkin — who was not available for comment — and Neal might be taking a toll. They have combined for only four even-strength goals this season.
“I'm sure having different linemates has something to do with it,” Neal said. “It's something we've talked about. We need to be better five-on-five, that's for sure.”
Neal suggested Malkin's struggles at even strength are partially the responsibility of his wingers.
“We need to have more zone time,” Neal said. “Maybe that means for myself to hold onto the puck a little more and for Boychuk to do that, as well. We need to help Geno a little more.”
Boychuk, who was claimed off waivers from Carolina two weeks ago, has played with Malkin and Neal for six straight games without mustering a point. He has enjoyed some splendid opportunities, including a breakaway and a handful of odd-man rushes, without any success.
“Hopefully, (chemistry) will come,” Neal said. “We're pretty comfortable with anyone we play with. Obviously it's tough to find another Chris Kunitz, with what he brings to the table.”
Malkin and Neal were successful last season with Kunitz on their left wing. However, Kunitz has played exclusively with center Sidney Crosby and right wing Pascal Dupuis this season.
Barring a trade before the April 3 deadline — or the promotion of winger Beau Bennett from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — Malkin and Neal will have to find cohesion with a linemate on the current roster.
Boychuk said he hopes he's that person.
“Hopefully, we can just get some more zone time,” Boychuk said. “I think it's going to be hard to keep those two off the board much longer.”
Boychuk admitted that he is feeling pressure to produce, given the golden opportunity he has received.
“For me, it hasn't happened yet,” Boychuck said. “But it is getting better. I've had chances. A couple of breakaways, a two-on-one. Malkin and I set each other up a couple of times. We've had chances. In the end, we just have to make the chances count.”
Glass primarily has played on the fourth line but has made some cameo appearances with Malkin and Neal.
“I keep it simple when I'm out there with them,” Glass said. “I am sure they'll be fine. It isn't easy being them. They get a ton of attention.”
If the third wheel on that line — no matter who it is — keeps failing to score, he also will be receiving plenty of attention from general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma.
“We have to find a happy medium,” Neal said. “We have to be better.”
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