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Crosby, Malkin Find Out Their Linemates

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Two of the biggest questions heading into Saturday’s first day of Penguins training camp at CONSOL Energy Center was who would play on a line with Sidney Crosby and would Evgeni Malkin play center or wing.

While the final answers won’t be written in pen until we get closer to the season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 7, head coach Dan Bylsma gave us an initial glimpse at the combinations we might see against the Flyers.

Crosby was flanked by usual linemate Chris Kunitz on the left side, while right winger Pascal Dupuis, who has played on and off with Crosby each of the past three seasons, took the right wing.

“I think we’ve all played together at some point, so you won’t get many combinations with guys that they aren’t comfortable with,” Crosby said. “Our job is to make it work no matter who you’re with. Nobody’s job changes depending on the line you’re on. A lot of us have played together in the past, so it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment.”

Crosby didn’t have much of an adjustment with his line, but Malkin did have a minor one when he lined up on the right wing on a unit which featured free agent signee Mike Comrie at center and top prospect Eric Tangradi on the left side when Team C hit the ice for their practice session at noon.

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“Evgeni has played wing a lot, and he’s moved to the wing when there’s another person on his line that can take a draw or play down low,” Bylsma said. “He’s comfortable moving there and has done that a lot. He did that in the playoffs when we won in ’09 with Maxime Talbot on his wing.”

While Malkin’s line has to wait until Sunday to test their chemistry in a scrimmage setting, Crosby and Co. were thrown right into the fire on camp’s opening day.

Crosby’s line started off slowly during the first period as everyone on both teams got their game legs back under them, but during period two the trio create quite a few quality scoring chances.

“We had a tough skating practice right before the scrimmage, so the legs kind of came back a bit during the second period,” Dupuis said. “When you play with guys like Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby you put your stick on the ice and you go as hard as you can to the net. I think we found each other more in the second half of the scrimmage.”

Crosby had two wide-open shots in the slot which missed the net by inches, and a Dupuis backhander from just outside the crease that went under netminder Mattias Modig, rolled along the goal line, and appeared to land in the net, although the referee standing next to the net ruled otherwise.

“It was in,” Dupuis said. “I saw that it was in. I pointed at the ref to let him know.”

Cooke, Asham Quite A Pair

Matt Cooke and Arron Asham battled each other quite a bit the past two seasons when Asham suited up for the Philadelphia Flyers. So much so that reporters have questioned each player numerous times this week about what it’s like to now be teammates.

Both players hugged it off during the team’s annual “Summer Sticks” golf tournament on Tuesday and have talked about already developing an off-ice friendship.

On the ice, the two make for quite the pair. Each plays with a physical edge that makes life difficult for opponents, has better-than-advertised hands and is quite competent defensively.

So it probably comes as no surprise that the two energetic forwards developed an instant chemistry during Saturday’s scrimmage.

They started the game for Team B, with Cooke manning the left side and Asham the right on a line centered by Mark Lestestu.

During the 40-minute running-clock exhibition, the two were often a force together down low, using a powerful cycling game a couple times to generate prime scoring chances, including a sequence in the second period where Asham dug the puck out of the near corner and directed a perfect feed to Cooke in the slot. Only the quick reflexes of Team B goaltender Brad Thiessen prevented a goal.

“We play the same style,” Asham said. “We like to use our bodies and play physical. I played with a lot of guys today, but it seemed like when I played with Cookie we were really on the same page.”

“I think we see the game the same,” Cooke said. “You get into that situation where you know where you want to be, so you know where they are going to be. I try to be a guy that adapts well to playing with others.”

Options Down the Middle

The Penguins will begin the 2010-11 season without the services of center Jordan Staal. While the loss of last season’s Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) finalist will hurt, the Penguins are in better shape than most to overcome his loss thanks to great depth down the middle.

During Saturday’s opening scrimmage, four players who played center for the team in ’09-10 – Letestu, Craig Adams, Mike Rupp and Maxime Talbot – took turns rotating through the middle for Team B, which featured many of the candidates who will comprise the Penguins’ energy lines.

All four players are natural centers who have branched out to wing positions at various times due to the Penguins’ depth, and befitting the team-first nature of this squad, each said it doesn’t matter to them who eventually gets the call down the middle.

“I think it is my natural position,” Rupp said. “I’m pretty able at any position. I just think that each provides a different plus for me. At center, I’m able to keep my momentum going keep my speed going more. I like to use my size in the D-zone to separate guys from the puck down low.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Talbot said. “I’ll play anywhere they ask me to as long as it helps the team win. That’s what I want to do. I just want to be out there battling with the guys.”
In terms of helping the team, Rupp believes that most of the forwards have position flexibility and can play spots other than center is a huge plus for the team. He says that helps further create a healthy competition – not just for training camp but also during the regular season.

“I think that is important,” Rupp said. “I think during the course of the season, good teams win by committee. If you are a team that has certain guys slotted permanently in certain spots and they are struggling, if you keep going with it, you go through some tough times. I think we have a great squad the way we are built and the way we really move guys around.”

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