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(UPDATED) Penguins Practice: Sullivan Shakes Up Top Two Lines

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Pittsburgh Penguins Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin

CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ No. 1 line, with Sidney Crosby between Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, has been one of the NHL’s most effective forward units at times this season.

Today, it isn’t even a line anymore.

At least for now.

With his team being 2-7-2 in its past 11 games and the Crosby line sputtering of late — particularly during the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to Toronto at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday — Mike Sullivan reconfigured his top two lines during practice Wednesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Crosby was flanked by Guentzel and Rickard Rakell, while Rust was with Jason Zucker and Evgeni Malkin.

Although Sullivan did not commit to deploying those combinations when the Penguins visit Minnesota Thursday, it seems likely that those moves will stick.

“We try to find combinations that can have success,” he said. “We’ve got options at our disposal. We talk about these things daily, depending on how the team is playing, certain lines are playing, certain people are playing.

“Sometimes, if you make little tweaks or adjustments here and there, you can, as a coaching staff, try to be proactive to see if we can’t effect some positive change with everybody. We’re looking at all of our options. We’ll make decisions accordingly.”

The Penguins used the groupings from Wednesday’s practice earlier this season, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that all concerned downplayed any major concerns about adjusting to the switches.

“We all know each other’s strengths,” Crosby said. “(Rakell) has a great shot, can see the ice really well. Both combinations have had success, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Rust concurred, in general.

“My game, for the most part, stays the same,” he said. “Playing with (Malkin), he likes to have the puck on his stick a lot. He likes to get in that open space with the puck. When you play with him, you have to drive (defensemen) back, keep going north-south, so he can find that space, either in front of, or behind, defensemen.

“With Sid, he likes more of that give-and-go, full-line kind of grind game. Either way, you’re working hard. You just have to find your game with both.”

The other two forward units at practice were the same as in the Maple Leafs game: Brock McGinn-Jeff Carter-Danton Heinen and Ryan Poehling-Teddy Blueger-Josh Archibald, with Kasperi Kapanen also working at right wing on the fourth line.

Defenseman P.O Joseph, who was scratched for the past three games, participated in the practice with no apparent difficulty. The Pittsburgh Penguins did not do any drills that would indicate whether changes to the pairings are being considered.

Power-play personnel

Here are the two power-play units from the workout:

No. 1: Kris Letang, Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Rust.

No. 2: Jeff Petry, Zucker, Rakell, Heinen, Carter.

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kingpuck
kingpuck
16 days ago

Oh Sullivan you cagey, progressive, innovator! You mean you are going to switch the lines back to where they were statistically superior? Coach of the year nomination!

Pete
Pete
16 days ago
Reply to  kingpuck

LOL. Exactly.
The eye test says 71 should be 1C with 87 2C.

Alexander Olsen
Alexander Olsen
16 days ago
Reply to  kingpuck

He’s so intellectual it’s crazy

Last edited 16 days ago by Alexander Olsen
maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
16 days ago

are they broken or droppin’ off the cliff that is Time?

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
16 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

oh, and PP2 should probably start the next man up situation…

AW18
AW18
16 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

he switched Rakell and Rust on the 5v5 lines but didn’t change it on a bottom 5 power play lol

Pete
Pete
16 days ago
Reply to  AW18

LOL. Sad but true.
PP will be bottom half until we get a net front banger. Who knows how many years that may take?

Anthony
Anthony
15 days ago
Reply to  Pete

There has to be net front presence on the PP Agreed. I thought Zahorna might be that guy, but alas. The other big problem is the PK. Blueger should help. At the end of the day, most of all, the Pens are a transition team. If Letang is not moving the puck well, the Pens are all out of synch. Someone has to help 58 untik he breaks out. Why is Smith in the AHL when Marino is on fire in NJ? Friedman would be an offensive boost and might be better than Petry if he keeps taking 3 penalties… Read more »

Rob
Rob
15 days ago
Reply to  AW18

Rakell should be on the first power play and Zucker should be in there as well.

Cal
Cal
16 days ago

Maybe the shakeups needed are not on the ice…..

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
15 days ago
Reply to  Cal

He’s brilliant? Let’s switch our Left Tackle and Guard with our Right Tackle and Guard. Now we have improved our Offensive Line? Same players, coaches, system? Same chemistry? Let’s switch our starting pitching staff rotation? That will improve our starting pitching?

Zach
Zach
16 days ago

The Penguins are trying to play the same way they did in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, problem is the team is not fast as it used to be. It’s still skilled, but not fast. They need to change the way they play, they don’t have the personnel to play an up tempo game like they want to. I am not saying going into a full out neutral zone trap like the 1990s Jacques Lemaire New Jersey Devils, but the team needs to try to utilize the neutral zone more, force other teams into mistakes, and then capitalize on those… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by Zach
Pete
Pete
16 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Good point. However, they are so slow that even when they get a turnover the opponents speed beats them. I would love to see the stat on odd man rushes for and against. The eye test senses we give up way more than we get.

Zach
Zach
16 days ago
Reply to  Pete

They need to play like they did in third period Friday Night in Toronto. That was text book hockey. Getting the puck deep, establishing a forecheck, playing smart sound defense.

The Penguins as a veteran older team can be successful, but they have to change their style of play.

Shirley jardine
Shirley jardine
16 days ago
Reply to  Zach

I agree with those comments, too slow, can’t keep up with the younger guys, Sid mostly can but not a few others, it’s been that way since day 1

Ethan
16 days ago

Sid is a lot of things, but when it comes to speed…’shirley’ you can’t be serious!

Mark Miller
Mark Miller
16 days ago

When is the management of this team going to realize that it needs to do something now. Points that are lost now cant be made up later in the season. It’s going to cost but a shock trade is needed.

Zach
Zach
16 days ago
Reply to  Mark Miller

I agree, but I think a trade is easier said than done right now. Reason being, is the cap. Any move made must involve moving salary and getting salary back. You need to make a trade that makes sense, and not just make a trade to make a trade.

From what I have read, The Ottawa Senators and The Vancouver Canucks are in the market for defense help, they are the two teams actively looking for trades at the moment.

Wasnt
16 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Zack I recently read an article on hockeywriters.com that had Pens trading Kap and a 4th or 5th pick to Arizona for Nick Ritchie.

kingpuck
kingpuck
16 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Ritchie won’t help them protect leads, he’d be a great Patrick Hornquist version for us on the PP, but who is taking a seat? The guy we need from Arizona is Zach Kassian. He skates well, is fearless and hold the other team accountable, AND he can be used on the PK.

Wasnt
16 days ago
Reply to  kingpuck

Ritchie or Kap??? I’d take Ritchie and his big size and small cap hit over Kapscratch

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
15 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Ritchie would be some help and change chemistry. Need a Lefty stay at home Dman that has physical characteristics too. They need character on that team. Had a lot of character on Stanley Cup teams. Even Tocchet on staff helped. It’s a Country Club Team currently.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller
16 days ago
Reply to  Zach

I agree with that, but 16 games in and under 500. Hextall needs to make something happen like getting rid of kap as he is a problem .

Shirley jardine
Shirley jardine
16 days ago

Keeping Malkin and Letange was a mistake and many do the great fans agrees and so did I, Geno played one game in beast mode and it worked, but he hasn’t played even good since and Letange is not playing well either, not so sure about a couple others but putting the first line back will improve, and I dont find Malkin very good on the penalty kill either, he made such a big thing out of retiring a penquin, I think everyone in management felt sorry for him so they let both stay, Sids has been the Best leader… Read more »

Wasnt
16 days ago

Shirley Im thinking the Pens style doesn’t catch anyone of guard anymore, everyone knows Sid hides behind the net to pass or sneak up front to tip one in. Geno trys to do fakes with the puck and if you put your stick in front of him he fumbles it away. Letangs long passes have no zip anymore and every team knows it. And even if they shake up the lines it’s still the same style even the PP is so stale and obvious. This team needs to go get Barry Trotz and get some beef. Sully, bless his heart,… Read more »

Zach
Zach
16 days ago

I had no problem bringing back Malkin and Letang. Physically, these guys can still play and Malkin has been one of the teams better producers as of late.

Letang, is making a lot of mental mistakes, and I feel he’s trying to do too much. He needs to just simplify things.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
15 days ago

Shirley is right. Horrible off season! Needed changes in Roster, Chemistry and Character. Got older, slower and softer. This Management Team hurt this team.

Wasnt
16 days ago

Great article Dave you got all of us spooled up.

Rob
Rob
15 days ago

Crosby Guentzel Rust line a Minus 19. Malkin Zucker Rakell a Plus 19. Letang a Minus 10 Rust a Minus 9.

Rob
Rob
15 days ago

Should stick Heinen up on second line to try and breakpoint his goal slump and Rust to third. Guentzel doesn’t seem the same since he took that puck in the face from Letang.

marc
marc
15 days ago

I am tired of Sullivan continually switching lines. never any consistency. never a chance to build chemistry. he takes rakell off the hottest line they have to move him up to Sid’s line. why? as much trash as people throw at Malkin he continually takes whoever isn’t working with Sid. Penguins have always been lucky that Malkin didn’t have the personality that he wanted to be the top center on a team. they would have lost him years ago. he is playing extremely well this year. yes he still makes that incredibly stupid cross ice pass too often but he… Read more »

Dan Kingerski
Admin
15 days ago
Reply to  marc

Sometimes, a coach can’t win. Most fans were screaming for him to change lines. He did, and people complain that he changes the lines too much.

Pidots
Pidots
15 days ago
Reply to  marc

Agreed. Can you imagine how much trash people would be throwing at Geno if he was performing like Sid and vice-versa? At start of the year everyone wanted Rakell with Sid and Rust with Geno. Rust performed better, everybody changed their mind and campaigned for Rust to be back with Sid in the first line. Now it’s the opposite, Rust hasn’t scored in 6 games so let’s put him back with Malkin and bring a heated up Rakell to play with Sid again. Maybe people just don’t want to admit that Malkin has been a better player than Sid this… Read more »

wesman33
wesman33
15 days ago
Reply to  Pidots

OMG Pilots that’s the most accurate post I’ve read on this site!!! Thank you for speaking what most deniers could never admit

Rob
Rob
15 days ago

Rakell should be on the first line. At least he shows some physical play unlike Rust who rarely takes a body against the boards and seen him many times peel away from that opportunity to do so. Even Zucker with all his health problems is physical. What’s Rust’s excuse? Hits taking bodies out of the play creates plays and scoring opportunities Simple Hockey.