Jared McCann, Penguins benefit from shaking up lines
Jared McCann didn’t score a hat trick in his first game with his new Pittsburgh Penguins linemates, but he did hit for the cycle.
McCann hasn’t been with the Penguins a full calendar year — that won’t happen until Feb. 1, 2020 — but when he joined Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust on the second line Thursday night, he had played with every forward on the team.
That includes former Penguins forward Tanner Pearson, who was McCann’s first linemate (with Patric Hornqvist) when he joined the team last season in a trade with the Florida Panthers.
Line changes are nothing new to anyone who has played a significant amount of hockey.
“If things aren’t going well, you need that spark,” McCann said. “We got that (Thursday) night.”
After the Penguins dragged a 3-0 deficit into the third period against the New York Islanders, McCann scored to start a rally that ended in a 4-3 Penguins victory, snapping the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak.
Rust scored twice, including the winner in overtime, and Malkin also put the puck in the net.
“It’s just the way the sport goes,” McCann said. “Sometimes, things aren’t clicking well. When you see a new guy on the wing or a new guy at center, it just kind of gives you a spark. I don’t know what the reasoning is behind it, really.”
McCann said his first strategic move while playing with Malkin was simple: “Try not to mess up.
“He’s obviously a really skilled guy, likes to have the puck and I’m just trying to create some space for him. That’s what makes an NHL player good, if you can play with anybody and have that chemistry.”
The new configurations move Alex Galchenyuk from the second to the first line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
“He has the ability to score goals,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Galchenyuk, who has 127 goals in eight years (none this season). “He’s shown that ability year in and year out in this league.
“We tried him for quite some time on Geno’s line, and we felt we’d make this change to see what happens. Obviously, Geno’s line had a great third period and Alex is a guy who has the ability to play with Sid and Jake. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a little while here, and we wanted him to get some games under his belt (with Malkin). If we didn’t feel as though it was going to work with Geno, this was a possibility or an option for us that we could potentially try.”
Rust said line changes are merely a way of life in the NHL.
“We have so many good players in here, and guys can move into so many roles and so many positions,” he said, “it just helps us be that much more dangerous.”
When will the next line change occur?
“You’d like to have things last as long as possible because that usually means things are going well,” Rust said.
Sullivan also may try to shake up the power play Saturday, moving Crosby and Malkin to separate units when the Penguins meet the Chicago Blackhawks at PPG Paints Arena. The team is stuck in an 0-for-22 man-advantage slump its past 10 games.
“As a power-play group, when you’re not having success, there’s a tendency to squeeze sticks because these guys are proud guys and they want to contribute and help the team win,” Sullivan said.
“Sometimes, to split them up and put them on separate units, maybe tweeks the mindset a little bit and maybe we can spark something.”
Crosby said scoring chances have surfaced on the power play.
“They just haven’t gone in,” he said. “(Coaches) are just trying to find a way to get one in and hopefully get some momentum.
“With different guys in different spots, maybe you react a little bit more instead of think. Sometimes, a different look helps that.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .