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Neal, Iginla show flexibility in switching wings

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- While outsiders fret over the thought putting usual right wings James Neal and Jarome Iginla on the same line, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has a quick quip of a retort.

"The best thing I can tell you is that James Neal never played the right side when he got here," Bylsma said. "He said, 'I only play the left.' I said, 'That's great, that's four or five minutes a game you won't be playing with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby.'

"He circled back around and he said, 'Hey, I'll try the right.'"

Bylsma's point was that forwards can make it work if put in the right situation -- even if on an unfamiliar wing. And with the Penguins tending to stick with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis as Crobsy's wings, that leaves Neal and Iginla for Malkin.

Nice consolation prize. From one Hart Trophy winner to another as your center.

"I've been really lucky to get a chance to play with both Sid and Geno," said Iginla, who was acquired from the Calgary Flames in a March 28 trade. "The lines do shake up however the flow of the game is gong. We're prepared to play whatever the dynamic is."

Neal, a left-handed shot, was a left wing when the Dallas Stars traded him to Pittsburgh in 2011. As Bylsma said, he shifted to the right and immediately had a career-high 40 goals in his first full season with the Penguins.

Right-handed Iginla was a longtime right wing while building a Hall of Fame resume over 16 seasons with the Flames. During his debut with Pittsburgh, he and Neal went on a shift-by-shift basis as to whom was on what side.

Iginla hadn't even practiced with the Penguins before that March 30 game. Since his comfort level with the team and the Bylsma system and his surroundings have increased, so has Iginla's ability and willingness to play on the left side.

"After three or four games he came to me and said, 'It doesn't matter,'" Bylsma said. "'If there's an opportunity for me to play the left side, I'm good with that too.' We've used him on both sides and with both centermen, and used his strong side and his off side."

Reminiscent of what he told Bylsma two years ago, Neal said he gladly would be flexible if it meant playing with a linemate the caliber of Iginla.

"Iggy's a guy with a great shot who works so hard for the puck and wins all his battles," Neal said. "We've got some chemistry going here.

"Whatever helps our team win. I can move back and forth pretty easily. I played left wing the first three years of my career and I've been on the right now for a little bit, so it doesn't make a difference for me."

Crosby, one of the premier playmakers of his generation, usually has two left-handed shots on his line, Kunitz and Dupuis. Crosby talked about the adjustment to playing with a righty such as Iginla, like he did over most of a three-game span until late in Game 1 against Ottawa.

But as Bylsma so often does, he's gone back to a Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis unit that was the NHL's most productive this season until Crosby missed the final 12 regular-season games because of a broken jaw.

"I'm sure Dan is pretty comfortable with us because we've played together so long," Crosby said. "But it could be for only a period. We saw last game, we can switch it up, so I don't think we get too caught up in it. We don't change our game based on who we're playing with. If we're together, we know what to expect -- but that doesn't mean we do anything different based on our linemates."

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