Trying to anticipate Pittsburgh’s line combinations is an exercise in futility. Coach Michel Therrien is very much in the Scotty Bowman mold when it comes to playing matchups and in using line placement to goad slackers and reward hard workers. By the end of the playoffs, he was using his top three scorers, Crosby, Malkin and Recchi as his top line, even though Malkin and Crosby are both centers.
But, on paper, it looks as though Sykora was acquired to give Crosby a finisher on right wing. Staal might be the most explosive left wing in Pittsburgh's depth chart, but Roberts adds the most experience and complementary two-way play. Malkin will center the second line with Recchi likely on his right wing and Staal, Roberts or Ryan Malone on the left wing. Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot will center the third and fourth lines. Rugged Colby Armstrong should be at third-line right wing with Laraque and Aaron Boogaard good bets to work the fourth-line right side. Jarkko Ruutu did a good job at fourth-line left wing, creating a likely battle for the third-line job between Malone, rugged Ryan Stone and Swedish prospect Johannes Salmonsson, who played Canadian juniors two years ago. The Penguins would like to find a place for left wing Jonathan Filewich, a proven AHL scorer.
The Penguins were fifth in the NHL on the power play last season with a 20.3 percent success rate. Sykora will only help them there. Crosby led the NHL with 48 power-play assists and 61 points. Malkin was 10th with 16 power-play goals and tied for 25th with 24 power-play assists. Recchi tied for 19th with 14 power-play goals. Gonchar and Whitney were next in power-play scoring, followed by the departed Michel Ouellet. Roberts had six goals and nine assists on power plays and Christensen had six goals and five assists. Malone and Armstrong were not effective on power plays. This creates opportunities that could be position deciders for Filewich, Staal and Stone.
The Penguins have lots of room to improve on penalty killing, ranking 17th with an 82.1 percent kill rate. For some reason, they were much better at Mellon Arena, finishing third in home penalty-killing with an 87.8 percent success rate. Obviously, they've got to cut down on road penalties and kill them better. However, Staal led the NHL with seven shorthanded goals and finished second with nine points. Talbot tied for fifth with four shorthanded goals. Armstrong was effective at killing penalties and had two shorthanded assists. Therrien will be looking for players to make a statement here as well, and the ability to help on the penalty kill could also be a deciding factor in who stays and who goes to Wilkes-Barre.
Up and Coming
Jonathan Filewich -- With 30 goals, Filewich had excellent seasons at Wilkes-Barre in 2006-07.
Petr Sykora -- Sykora had consecutive seasons of 72, 68 and 82 points before dipping in his final New Jersey season, 2001-02. He went up a bit in two Anaheim seasons, played in Russia with Malkin and Gonchar during the work stoppage and had 51 points between the Ducks and the Rangers the next season. He led the Edmonton Oilers last season with 22 goals and 53 points. Sykora, 30, is solidly built, and it seems unlikely that he's over the hill. Players talk about knowing where favored linemates are at any moment and Sykora, perhaps, hasn't had that since separating from Patrik Elias. He's getting a golden opportunity to play with Crosby, Malkin and Recchi. Staal is on the verge of joining that elite group.