What to do with the new-age Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic (or even Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov, I suppose)? Just as in their day, many wondered how to best utilize supremely talented natural centers when two wind up on the same team. Should they be used together often at even strength? Or just when the team needed a goal or shot in the arm? Or hardly ever at all, regardless of the situation? I believe the Avs and Red Wings tried a mixture of all these schools of thoughts over parts of several different seasons.
Arguments for using a regular Malkin/Crosby even strength line:
+ Supremely skilled players play at a higher level when they’re with like minded players. Things were easier (not to mention happier) when a guy named Jaromir Jagr got to play with Ron Francis and Mario Lemieux and not carry a line of scrubs like Kip Miller and Josef Beranek.
+ Lack of consistent skill wingers. Colby Armstrong has been great the last handful of games, but he’s proven to be a pretty inconsistent point producer. Same can be said of Ryan Malone. Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal certainly have the skill, but both have had disappointing seasons in statistical categories for long stretches. Erik Christensen and Georges Laraque have had limited chances with Malkin, and for good reason, both have stunk in top 6 roles and shouldn’t even be in the argument.
+ It will open more up (in theory) for others. Surely opponents will have to use their #1 checking forward line and their #1 defenseman to do everything possible to limit Crosby and Malkin. This should, in theory, let guys like Malone, Staal and Sykora play against weaker defensive forwards and defenseman which should translate into more chances and goals for them.
+ Keeps them on the same page. Fimiliarity, obviously, is a good thing. Every practice, every shift, these two become a little more in sync with each other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and that should benefit all aspects of their game. You have to play these guys together more often than just the powerplay and having them on the same line should create more cohesion. Let’s not forget these guys are 20 and 21 year olds and have been in the same lineup for probably about 115 games. They hardly have the rapport of a duo that’s been together for years, for obvious reasons, it has to come from experience playing together.
+ To maximize both players ice time. At even strength Therrien is pretty good about rolling four lines and there’s been criticism that he doesn’t play Crosby and Malkin enough. Obviously it’d be easier to play them more if they’re playing together.
Arguments for splitting up Crosby and Malkin at even strength:
- It makes the Penguins a 1 line team. As mentioned, you know the opponents shutdown units are going to be 100% focused on the top line. And if they do keep the big guns off the scoreboard it’s going to mean the team as a whole is struggling. Secondary scoring hasn’t been as good as expected anyways.
- Malkin is a natural center anyways. Malkin’s size, vision and playmaking ability means he’s a natural at center. He should not be used in a position where he might not be able to utilize 100% of his skills and ability.
- To make others better. Crosby has had gotten good stretches of play out of guys like Armstrong and Malone. The same can be said for Malkin with Staal (last season) and Sykora. The secondary players aren’t producing now, but perhaps their best bet is to still be played with these talented centers and not left to fend for themselves.
As you can see, there’s good arguments pro and con. Personally we here believe that the current course of action is right: leave them together now because the team needs the offensive boost without Fleury and the two are playing darn well right now. In the future, while I don’t think they should be permanent linemates, I think there’s good reason to keep experimenting with it for more situations than just at the end of the game if the team needs a goal.
And, as a bonus, here’s two potential line combinations (done by me) for both scenarios. Feel free to pipe up in the comments and say what you like better or suggest your own. Everyone loves to play coach when you can’t take the blame of a loss!
Since there’s only 12 forwards, all with pretty defined roles, there’s not much room for switching around.