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Penguins notebook: Evgeni Malkin sits, Jake Guentzel moves to center

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, 12:15 p.m.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel beats Canucks goaltender Andres Nilsson in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel beats Canucks goaltender Andres Nilsson in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Nashville Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson (33), of Sweden, battles Pittsburgh Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) for the puck in overtime at an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Nashville Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson (33), of Sweden, battles Pittsburgh Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) for the puck in overtime at an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
The Penguins' Carter Rowney defends on the Predators' Mattias Ekholm in the third period Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Carter Rowney defends on the Predators' Mattias Ekholm in the third period Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel takes a shot against the Canucks in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel takes a shot against the Canucks in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

The temptation had been there for weeks, if not months, for Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

An injury to Evgeni Malkin broke his resolve, and he finally gave in.

Jake Guentzel started Wednesday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks centering the second line between Bryan Rust and Phil Kessel.

Malkin missed the game with an upper-body injury. Sullivan said the Russian star will be reevaluated Thursday to determine his availability for games Friday at Boston and Saturday at home against Tampa Bay.

Carter Rowney, out since Oct. 21 with a broken hand, has resumed full-contact practice, was activated from the injured list Wednesday and took pre-game warm-ups, but he wasn't quite ready to go against the Canucks.

Guentzel, therefore, made the switch from left wing to his natural position of center.

“We have been tempted,” Sullivan said. “We tried him at center in different situations. We know he can play there. We know he's a good center iceman. It's an option that we have.”

There is a strong argument against moving Guentzel to center.

For one thing, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward could get pushed around while defending down low. For another thing, he had taken a grand total of 51 NHL faceoffs coming into Wednesday night.

Also, it might be considered risky business to take one of a team's three most dangerous scoring wingers and change his position, especially when he has shown chemistry with Sidney Crosby.

The arguments for moving Guentzel to center, even when Malkin returns from injury, are also attractive.

Guentzel in the middle would give the Penguins the option to spread their scoring depth over three lines rather than two.

Plus, if the Penguins wanted to infuse some offense to their lineup, winger Daniel Sprong is much more likely to make an impact than any of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's centers. And if general manager Jim Rutherford decided to go the trade route, it's usually easier to acquire a winger who can chip in than a scoring-line center.

“We chose not to go there to this point because we've liked him on the wing, playing with certain people in certain situations, but we do know that it is an option,” Sullivan said. “It's something we talk about weekly, and most recently, daily. We're very comfortable putting Jake at center.”

Bottom-six scoring

With Malkin out, the six forwards the Penguins dressed on their third and fourth lines Wednesday night had combined to score five goals 22 games into the season. That's obviously not ideal.

Sullivan said he wants more production from all his forwards, though, not just the bottom six. He also defines that term more broadly than most.

“When you use the word production, I think you're implying scoring goals,” Sullivan said. “I think it's important that we become a team that's harder to play against, and that starts with defense first. That starts with our play away from the puck and our will in puck battles and wall play and a lot of the thankless jobs out there.

“It's amazing how when you focus on those types of things, how opportunity offensively presents itself.”

A Mario moment

The NHL has been running an online contest to determine the greatest moment in the league's 100-year history. One of the most amazing nights of Mario Lemieux's career is one of the finalists.

On Dec. 31, 1988, Lemieux famously scored five goals in five ways — even strength, power play, short-handed, penalty shot and empty net — against the Devils. Lemieux's accomplishment will square off in the finals with Bobby Orr's famous flying overtime goal from the 1970 Stanley Cup Final.

Voting continues on NHL.com through Tuesday.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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