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Penguins' Perron, Crosby found quick chemistry

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

Predicting chemistry on a forward line is as easy as predicting the lottery.

Three players who on paper should be able to jell fail to produce, while three players who might look like misshaped puzzle pieces fit together and make magic.

"The chemistry and synergy of linemates only happens when they're together," Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Gary Agnew said. "You can predict as much as you want."

But a prediction is what Agnew and the Penguins coaching staff had to make when right wing David Perron was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 2. Perron is a talented offensive player who scored at least 20 goals three times in his first seven NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues and Oilers. But almost no one in the Penguins organization had any history with Perron.

"I knew [Kris Letang] a little bit," Perron said. "Knew [Marc-Andre Fleury] slightly, same with [Pascal Dupuis] because we have the same agent."

The only person who had any real relationship with Perron was Agnew, who was an assistant coach with the Blues in 2012-13, Perron's final season in St. Louis. Though it was 48 games in the lockout-shortened season, Agnew said it was more than enough time for him to get an understanding of the kind of player and person Perron is.

"He's an intelligent, offensive-type of hockey player," Agnew said. "And I think that when it comes to the 200-foot game he's a hard worker and he's conscientious. Probably more so now that he's an older player, when offense was everything."

Because of the way Perron, 26, plays and thinks the game, Agnew believed Perron would be a good fit with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

So far the move has worked as well as anyone could have hoped. Entering the Penguins' Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) Perron has five goals in seven games, with four of them assisted by Crosby.

"That's an opportunity that any player would dream of having," Perron said of playing with Crosby. "I was extremely excited getting the call to come here. I'm just trying to fit in with him and do anything I can to make the team successful."

On the surface, producing with Crosby as your center should be as easy as lacing your skates. But it doesn't always work that way.

"I think the biggest thing is just to get involved with the play and not get caught watching when he's got the puck and he's trying to create space for himself or for us as teammates," Perron said. "I think that's the biggest thing. You always have to be in position to shoot or in position to support him and keep the play alive."

Agnew said this is where Perron's superior hockey sense helps.

David Perron
Left Wing - PIT
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 26
SOG: 107 | +/-: -19
"When you play with somebody like that [Crosby], you're back to hockey instinct and hockey IQ, knowing where to go, where the puck's going, what he's thinking," Agnew said. "You have to almost think what he's thinking and vice versa, and that's where you get that synergy. And David's instincts are such that he can do that with most players if they're smart players. He has a tendency to be able to play with them because he thinks the same way as they do."

It's been a work in progress, but so far Crosby said he's enjoyed the run.

"He's finding the back of the net and he's got a great shot," Crosby said. "He came in ready to do whatever it took to kind of bring whatever he does to the line. With his shot and his hockey sense, he really allows himself to create a lot of opportunities. ... He's able to see a lot of plays and make a lot plays, whether it be through the neutral zone or in the offensive zone. I always knew he had a great shot. Just his ability to see the ice and make those little plays has been something that's stood out a lot."

Team success hasn't come yet; the Penguins were 2-3-2 since acquiring Perron. But the chemistry between Perron and Crosby seems to grow by the shift.

"I knew he [Crosby] was fast but I think he really pushes guys back," Perron said. "They're afraid of him getting by them and he really pushes the pace of play in the neutral zone and that's something I've had to adjust to, trying to get more speed through the neutral zone. I think I've gotten better the six games I've been here of doing that. Just want to keep trying to do that."

Though there were no sure things, Perron and Crosby seem to have found a connection that can stand as the foundation for a strong line.

"David's been very good since he first came in," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "It's always a difficult transition, but I thought his transition time was cut short. He just seemed to mix well with Sid. Then we bumped [Chris Kunitz] back up on that line and it's been good for us. [Perron] handles the puck well, gets up and available in the offensive zone for shooting opportunities, and Sid can find him with his playmaking ability. I think overall for David, I've liked his game, his 200-foot game. He's good along the boards, he's got some feistiness to him. So he's had a good start for us."

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