It takes a player with a special set of skills -- and a high dose of confidence -- to play on Crosby's flank. The Penguins are hoping Ruslan Fedotenko, signed as a free agent from the New York Islanders this summer, emerges as that player.
"I think with Sid, you need to be a certain type of player," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "I like the way (Fedotenko) plays. He's got decent speed, he's good on the boards, and he has the capability to finish."
Therrien identified Fedotenko as a possibility to play alongside Crosby even before the team took the ice for the first time earlier this month. But he has waited until recently to try out his hypothesis. Early in the preseason Fedotenko played with the versatile Max Talbot and Matt Cooke, a grinding winger brought over from Washington.
But midway through the team's final exhibition in North America, against Toronto on Friday, Therrien threw Fedotenko on Crosby's line. You could say he liked what he saw, as Pittsburgh scored four of the last five goals to earn a come-from-behind 5-4 win. Fedotenko finished with three assists, including the primary assist on a Crosby goal that tied the game at 3-3.
Miroslav Satan, another free-agent import from the Islanders, played the other wing in that game and appears the front-runner to open on Crosby's right wing.
"I want to see how those guys fit in together," Therrien said Monday after the Penguins went through a 90-minute practice at Hovet Arena. "Obviously I liked the results Friday night."
So much so that the Satan-Crosby-Fedotenko line will ride together Thursday when the Penguins travel to Helsinki to play Jokerit in the final exhibition before Pittsburgh opens the regular season with the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 series against Ottawa this weekend.
"We'll try it again on Thursday and see what the results are," Therrien said.
Fedotenko is eager for the opportunity to play next to Crosby again and show the coaching staff he is up to the task of logging first-line minutes.
"It'll be great if I play on that line," Fedotenko said. "It's an honor to play with great players. But you have to deliver."
And there's the rub. The 29-year-old Fedotenko has shown flashes of brilliance in his seven-season NHL career, but has topped the 20-goal plateau only once, scoring 26 in 2005-06 for Tampa Bay. Can a player who averages 17 goals per season handle the responsibility of being a top-line producer?
No doubt says Fedotenko.
"I feel like I always have the potential to score a lot of goals, but somehow I find a way to underperform. But I feel like I have the potential to score 25 goals, or more." -- Ruslan Fedotenko
Twenty-five goals would be the minimum acceptable for a player given the responsibility of playing on Crosby's line. Marian Hossa, brought in from Atlanta at last season's trade deadline to give Crosby a dependable scoring option, scored 15 goals in 32 games of first-line duty.
Fedotenko had just 16 goals in 67 games with the Islanders last season, but he didn't play with a center like Sidney Crosby. No team, in fact, has a center like Crosby. Fedotenko, though, is confident in his abilities to deliver the goods, and confident he can adapt to Crosby's sublime game and form a symbiotic relationship with one of the sport's elite set-up men.
"Playing with different players, no matter who they are, just means that you have to adjust," Fedotenko said. "Not everybody does the same things or sees the game the same way. I'm just trying to deliver on the opportunity. Sidney sees the ice so well. It's easy to play with a center that can skate and sees the ice really well. You can play give and go and do different things."
Ah, yes, what about this center that sees the ice so well. What does he think of his potential new linemate?
"He's an experienced and smart player," Crosby said. "He has a little bit of everything in his game. He's got speed, but he's also smart and he's got a great shot."
Sounds promising, doesn't it?
Sure does, says Crosby.
"We'll have to work together," he said. "When you play with new guys, it's important to talk things out. I'm sure we'll try to figure things out. It's an adjustment for everybody. But that's the fun part of playing -- figuring things out and trying to win."