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Crosby finds chemistry with Simon and Sprong

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

When Sidney Crosby is asked to describe his ideal linemate, it's mostly a matter of four words: "speed" and "give and go."

"Speed is so important," Crosby said after the Penguins beat Boston, 6-5 in overtime, Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena. "Everyone's fast. So, number one, you've got to be able to skate.

"The give-and-go is important. That probably tailors more to my strengths and how I like to play. That comes a little easier than the long, stretch pass or someone who likes to play a lot of one-on-one. The give-and-go-game is probably the biggest thing."

Crosby has centered a plethora of wingers since he came to Pittsburgh in 2005. The latest are two rookies, 23-year-old Dominik Simon and 20-year-old Daniel Sprong, each summoned from the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club and drafted to play with Crosby by way of trying to balance the scoring among the Pens' top three lines.

"Dominik and Spronger have done a nice job in this early part of their NHL careers," Coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's going to be a game-by-game process for them. It's hard to bring it night in and night out. That's part of the learning process when you're dealing with young players.

"So far they've had a couple of really strong games [skating on Crosby's line]. We're hoping we can build on that, and it certainly gives us the ability to create the balance we're looking for."

Sprong is an intriguing topic, a natural goal-scorer through Major Junior now skating with perhaps hockey's best playmaker. The Penguins selected Sprong in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Sprong scored 18 goals in 29 games with the WBS Penguins this season. He netted 117 times in 199 games while skating with Charlottetown, P.E.I., of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Sprong says he's not intimidated by playing on Crosby's line.

"I try to play my game," Sprong said. "The biggest thing for me is trying not to watch him all the time. He's such a great player.

"You just try to always be ready, and find the right spots to make it easy for him to give the puck. When I have it, he's always in the right spot, so it's easy for me to give him a pass. With Dom, we're starting to talk a lot out there. We're trying to find each other on the same page."

Sprong is a shooter: Witness 18 shots in five games with the Penguins since being called up from Wilkes/Barre-Scranton.

"When I have a chance to shoot, I'm going to shoot," Sprong said. "Sid's an unbelievable passer and an unbelievable player. So I just try to put myself in the right spot and when I have a chance to shoot, I've got to shoot."

Crosby assisted each of Sprong's goals this season, both tallied in the Penguins' 4-0 away win over the New York Islanders Jan. 5.

"They're quick," Crosby said of his current linemates. "They've got that energy and excitement, being in the NHL and playing some games. That urgency is there. We need that every night, and they certainly bring that.

"Spronger has got a great shot. Dom sees the ice well and makes little plays. We've seen some good shifts so far, but it's been more that every line's found a way to play in the offensive zone. When you do that, you're getting tired defensive pairings and tired lines out there, and everyone benefits when that's happening."

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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