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Pens' Christensen hopes switch boosts scoring

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By Keith Barnes
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

Erik Christensen is back where he started.

After being shuffled around as a part of seemingly every conceivable Penguins line combination that could involve him, the 23-year-old forward is now stationed on the left wing of the team's second line, centered by Evgeni Malkin.

Christensen played on Malkin's left wing during the first few days of training camp this season but hasn't been there since, despite coach Michel Therrien's constant altering of the team's forward lines.

"It was short-lived in training camp, but I had a talk with Mike (yesterday) morning and he sort of wanted to switch things up," Christensen said. "He knows I'm probably a little more comfortable at center, but the team needs to score, he wants me to produce more and he's probably trying to find a source of secondary scoring."

Christensen was projected to be a consistent goal scorer, but as the season reached its quarter pole he has joined a litany of teammates who have had difficulty finding the the net. Coming off a breakout year in which he had 18 goals and 33 points in 61 games, he has scored only two goals in 18 games this season and twice earlier in the year was a healthy scratch.

"We have to find a way to give some life to Erik," Therrien said. "He's exactly what we're looking for. He's got speed, he's a goal scorer who will score some goals, he's got a great shot and a great release, and I'm trying to find a way to help him."

After his brief stint in camp with Malkin, Christensen eventually opened the regular season centering a line with Gary Roberts and Colby Armstrong. But as he struggled his ice time dwindled until, after one goal and two points in his first six games, he was scratched for the first time on Oct. 20 in Washington.

Fluid lines

Penguins coach Michel Therrien has spent the entire season tinkering with the team's line combinations in an effort to generate some offense. These are his latest lines:

Ryan Malone-Sidney Crosby-Petr Sykora

Erik Christensen-Evgeni Malkin-Colby Armstrong/Mark Recchi

Gary Roberts-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy

Jarkko Ruutu-Adam Hall-Georges Laraque

Things have not improved. Since being scratched Christensen has only one goal in his last 12 games and is in the midst of a six-game drought. He had an assist in the Penguins' loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday to end a five-game skid without a point, but the organization is of the opinion that teaming him with Malkin, who is tied for the NHL lead with 20 assists, will provide the necessary jump-start to his offense.

"I hope that playing with Malkin will give him some life and confidence because Evgeni can create a lot of room for his line(mates)," Therrien said. "I like the way Malkin is playing and, with his speed, he could open up some space for Christensen."

Still, being a player in constant transition isn't easy. Christensen hasn't stayed with any of his previous linemates long enough to have a cup of coffee, much less develop much-needed chemistry. And it won't be any easier getting in sync with Malkin considering the flux on the right wing side as Armstrong -- who has been scratched in six of the last eight games -- and Mark Recchi are vying with each other for playing time.

"We're just kind of rotating through the four of us, so we'll see what happens," Armstrong said. "It's definitely tough to watch and I definitely want to be out on the ice, but I've got to work hard and try to be ready and that's what I'm trying to do right now."

To top it off, Christensen is still learning his responsibilities, both offensively and defensively, after playing center for most of his career. But he's not about to use any of that as an excuse for his lack of offensive production.

"I just think that, when you're a professional, you should be able to adapt to anything and it's really something I can't control," Christensen said. "I told Mike that he's the coach, those are the decisions that he has to make and I can't worry about what I can't control. I just have to do what I can to help the team."

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