With Crosby out, Bylsma will keep lines largely intact
The Penguins are no strangers to winning without Sidney Crosby, who has missed 101 games during the previous two seasons.
Coach Dan Bylsma's philosophy to winning without Crosby, beginning Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres, appears simple: Keep everyone comfortable.
“We just need to keep doing what we're doing,” forward Tyler Kennedy said.
Bylsma apparently agrees.
Consider some of the status quo that will be maintained when the Penguins attempt to win their 16th straight game — one shy of the NHL record:
• The line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla will remain intact. That line was put together before Crosby sustained a broken jaw and lost several teeth Saturday against the New York Islanders.
• The line of Brandon Sutter, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow — presumably the third line Bylsma would like to deploy in the Stanley Cup playoffs — will remain together even though it may have been tempting to move Sutter into the top six.
• Wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, who have flanked Crosby with great success this season, will remain on the same line. Their temporary will be Kennedy. There is familiarity for Kennedy, too, because he was a center during the younger stages of his career.
Bylsma is making things even simpler for his newest player. Iginla was agreeable to playing left wing Saturday, but he felt uncomfortable at times largely because he hadn't played the left wing in 15 years.
Expect a change against the Sabres as Iginla will flip to the right wing and Neal, originally a left wing, will switch to the left side of Malkin.
“It's more natural,” Iginla said. “I'd be lying if it wasn't. I'm happy to keep working on the left, but if it is the right, I feel better and more comfortable.”
Neal prefers playing on the right side on the second line because he likes receiving passes from Malkin's forehand side. However, he insisted the switch isn't a big deal and that, with Malkin's unorthodox style, positions are often irrelevant.
Playing without Crosby isn't ideal, of course, but Neal is confident the team can maintain its hot play without him.
“It gives guys a chance to step up,” Neal said. “I think we'll be OK.”
Bylsma acknowledged that the duos he will deploy in the playoffs — namely Kunitz with Dupuis, Malkin with Neal and Sutter with Cooke — will be best served playing together now.
“Yes, a little bit,” Bylsma said. “Today when we looked at combinations on the ice, we've got two lines that pretty much have stayed together.”
Moving Kennedy to center between two of the league's most productive wingers was an easy decision for Bylsma, who noted that he immediately thought of Kennedy moving into that spot when Crosby was injured. Kennedy assisted on Matt Cooke's game-winning goal later that afternoon.
“It's a place he's played a lot in his life,” Bylsma said.
And dealing with Crosby being out of the lineup puts the Penguins in a familiar place.
“With Sid being out, minutes need to be eaten up,” Sutter said. “But we're going to keep doing the same things.”