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.
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.