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NHL Insider: Iginla in the Fedotenko role

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 10:07 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Referee Tim Peel shares a laugh with newly accquired Penguin Jarome Iginla before his debute in Pittsburgh on Saturday, March 30, 2013, at Consol Enrgy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguin's Jarome Iginla, James Neal and Evgeni Malkin sit on the bench earlier this season.

Jarome Iginla may be the new Ruslan Fedotenko.

It worked for the Penguins in 2009, when they won the Stanley Cup with Fedotenko — a big, but not exactly bruising winger — taking up space on the left side of the ice as center Evgeni Malkin and forward Max Talbot, playing on the right side, parlayed their off-ice chemistry into on-ice magic.

Malkin and James Neal are proven firecrackers together on the ice — they combined for 90 goals playing together last season — and coach Dan Bylsma wants to light their fuses in the playoffs.

After all, as Malkin has gone — 24 goals and 58 points in 44 playoff games during the 2008 and 2009 Cup Final runs — so have the Penguins in the postseason. His points-per-game average was 1.32 in 2008 and 2009. Otherwise, when healthy, he is at 0.96, and the Penguins have won one series.

Getting Malkin going is essential to the Penguins, who despite their envious depth, need him to dominate while captain Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) is out or works his way back into form after a month away from playing.

For this reason, Iginla might make sense as the left winger on a line with Malkin and Neal, even though Neal has previously played three NHL seasons as a left winger.

Iginla has experimented with that position for a bit more than three weeks.

“There are other aspects of our execution that playing the off side is beneficial, and we've seen that in those areas — coming across the ice — and he's kind of gotten more comfortable with that and where those areas are,” Bylsma said of Iginla, a right-handed shot, playing on the off wing.

There is a popular presumption — not one ever confirmed by Bylsma or Iginla — that Iginla's role is to be a goal scorer for these Penguins.

His role is likely not that limited.

During the 2009 run to the Cup, the Penguins set up their trio of talented centers — Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal — with left wingers who brought a physical element, either in front of net, deep in the zone or along the boards.

Kunitz (corners) and Matt Cooke (end zone) pummeled defensemen near the boards to create space for Crosby and Staal, respectively. Malkin had space created for him by Fedotenko taking up real estate in the slot.

Iginla is a punishing power forward, but at this stage of his career he is better suited for tight-quarter physicality than hits near the boards. He and Kunitz are by far the most physical top-six wingers.

Could the Penguins win the Cup with Iginla scoring seven goals and producing 14 points?

They did in 2009, when Fedotenko posted those statistics.

Crosby led that postseason in goals, with Kunitz as his winger.

Malkin led that postseason in points, with Fedotenko as his left winger.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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