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Penguins notebook: Crosby-Malkin pairing could get more ice time

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Evgeni Malkin headshot

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, April 27, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
 

Despite not producing a goal, the line pairing of superstar Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Saturday received high marks from teammates and coach Dan Bylsma.

“They were in the offensive zone buzzing all night,” winger James Neal said of the two players who have combined to win four of the past eight NHL scoring titles.

Crosby and Malkin skated with winger Chris Kunitz during a 3-1 win against Columbus in Game 5 of the Penguins' first-round playoff series.

But it wasn't so much the performance of “The Two-Headed Monster” itself Saturday that could portend its reemergence as this postseason progresses. It was that the Penguins' other lines also had strong games.

Bylsma was pleased both with the “bottom six” forwards and a second line of Neal, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen.

“I thought they were very good in Game 5 as a line, as a group,” Bylsma said while eight players took part in an optional practice. “And that almost gave you more confidence to look for times and ways to have Sid and Geno and Chris Kunitz play together as a group (in the future).”

Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz accounted for 25 shot attempts Saturday — albeit some of that coming during power plays (Crosby assisted on a Kunitz power-play goal). Neal, Jokinen and Sutter combined for 17 shot attempts — and Sutter assisted on Jokinen's winning goal.

The team's other six forwards — playing in some different combinations over the course of the game — combined for 14 shot attempts.

Penguins excel in 5-on-5

The Penguins weren't too much better than an average team at 5-on-5 during the regular season. They didn't have to be — not with their power play and penalty kill both ranking among the NHL's best.

During the playoffs, though, Bylsma believes that even-strength play is “when we've been at our best.”

The Penguins were dominant at it during Game 5, outshooting Columbus, 39-20. They have outscored the Blue Jackets, 9-6, during this series when each team has five skaters on the ice. During each of the Penguins' losses in the series, they produced just one 5-on-5 goal. During each of their three wins, they enjoyed long stretches of controlling the play at even strength. “We've done a good job of playing 5-on-5 and even doing a good job of eliminating their forechecking opportunities with the way we've played with the puck and played in the offensive zone,” Bylsma said.

Finally, a safe 3-1 lead

The lack of ability for either team to hold a lead during this series has bordered on the comical.

So Bylsma took the opportunity at the podium Sunday to crack some one-liners about it.

“We were pretty proud of holding a 3-1 lead for (one minute and one second), because that's been pretty hard to do in this series,” Bylsma said, referring to the small period of time after Kris Letang's empty-net goal in Game 5. “So we're going to take pride in that and say we've changed the trend.”

Bylsma also suggested — tongue-in-cheek — that the Penguins were happy to let Columbus score first in Game 5.

“We actually had a joke,” Bylsma said, “maybe should just give them the 1-0 lead before the start of the game.”

Around the boards

Bylsma provided no update on injured players other than to confirm that defenseman Brooks Orpik is out with an injury. … Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Rob Scuderi were the only players who appeared in Saturday's game to take part in an optional practice Sunday. Backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff and forward Brian Gibbons (upper-body) took part. Orpik did not.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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