While Sidney Crosby
doesn’t know what to expect when he steps on the ice tonight, at least he’ll have familiarity in his linemates.
Penguins wingers Chris Kunitz
and Pascal Dupuis
will play with Crosby, who has missed nearly 11 months with a concussion, in his first NHL game since Jan. 5.
“That’s a line he’s played a lot with and has the most experience with on our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Both Kunitz and Dupuis believe that reuniting their line should help the transition for Crosby as he tries to regain the playing level from last season that saw him embark on a 25-game scoring streak and scored 32 goals in 41 games.
Because, after all, they flanked him for the majority of that time.
“I think it will probably help,” Dupuis said. “We've played together quite a bit and that's what he knows. Hopefully it will work.”
Dupuis’ speed and Kunitz’ muscle provide the perfect complements for Crosby’s talents.
“’Duper’ brings the speed, and I can help with the line by causing confusion and on the forecheck, to get pucks to turnover and be able to keep up with Sid when he’s going at full steam,” Kunitz explained.
“He’s a guy that kind of demands the puck when he’s skating out there. He always looks kind of open with his speed and ability to create open spaces out there. Sid was on such a great run it made it kind of easy for his wingers to play with him.”
Getting their leader and their captain back into their lineup is going to be a huge boost for the Penguins, who are coming off a two-game road trip where they dropped both contests and didn’t play their best hockey.
Their main focus heading into their game with the Islanders is doing what they need to do to get the win, with the return of the best player in the league obviously playing an integral part of that. And while there are certainly many options for potential Crosby linemates, he hasn’t been skating with a particular line in practice.
Instead, he’s mostly been filling in wherever there were empty spaces. As Dupuis put it, “No line combinations were really tried, it was just a matter of him stepping in for guys that were not skating.”
So Bylsma prefers to go with a tried-and-true format for tonight versus trying something new.
“(Steve) Sullivan and (James) Neal, there’s lots of different possibilities,” Bylsma said. “But those guys would be new for him to play within a game, which is why he is going to go with (Kunitz and Dupuis).”
And those players know exactly what they need to do to ensure their line does well.
“We know there’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period,” Kunitz said. “You got to get out there, you got to work hard and do the things that help us play on his line. Those are the things that makes us successful."
Both players said it should be business as usual for their line before the game as they prepare to take the ice at CONSOL Energy Center.
"Just take it back to the same routine as you had before," Kunitz said. "Everyone prepares different. It’s obviously just nice to have him back."