Courtesy of Point Park University

Sullivan shuffles top two lines in camp practice


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Brandon Tanev. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- The Penguins' forward lines had a different look on Friday.

Mike Sullivan used the following combinations in practice:

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon/Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Kahun

The only line that stayed intact is the third line of McCann, Bjugstad, and Hornqvist. That's not much of a surprise, given Sullivan's praise toward that combination during camp.

“It’s a conscientious line in the sense that they play at both ends of the rink,” Sullivan said of the third line. “We could play them against other teams’ top lines and have a comfort level. And they are a line that can score. There’s skill there. They are all pretty accomplished offensive players. But what I’ve liked about it when we’ve had that line together last year was they’re hard to play against."

The other three lines, though, were shuffled around. Kahun was moved from the first line to Rust's spot on the fourth line, Rust moved to Tanev's spot on the second line, and Tanev took Kahun's place on Crosby's wing on the first line.

First impressions are that Tanev, who Malkin called "probably one of the fastest guys in the NHL," is getting a shot on the first line to see how his speed fits in with Crosby and Guentzel. Speed was the first thing Sullivan pointed to when asked about Tanev's spot on that line.

"He plays a real good north-south game," Sullivan said. "He's got a physical edge to him, he can disrupt breakouts, he can force turnovers. He's similar to Rusty in that regard, with a little more physical edge to his game. But what we like, if we do choose to put him with our top six, is the fact that he's a speed guy and he can get in on the forecheck, he can force turnovers. And my experience with coaching our core guys is that when they have speed on their lines, and they have guys that can help them create turnovers, those guys do a terrific job at making plays off of that. That's what we like about what he brings to that top six, if we so choose to put him there."

Kahun has performed well in that spot in the first week of camp. Early in camp Guentzel called Kahun fast and skilled, and Crosby praised Kahun's strength on the puck and vision. Even though Kahun was bumped to the fourth line in the latest combinations, Sullivan is still high on Kahun's game.

"His instinctive play, he's real elusive," Sullivan said. "I think when he's down in the offensive zone, deep in the offensive zone below the goal line, underneath the hash marks, he's tough to handle because he's elusive. He's quick. He's not necessarily fast straight ahead, end to end, but he's quick. And he can get to pucks and he can create separation that allows him the opportunity to make that next play, and he has the hockey sense to be able to see it."

The Rust-Malkin combination isn't a new one, and was together for 86:58 of ice time during the last regular season. The combination was on the ice for four goals for and eight against, and the shot attempts with that line was also slightly in favor of the opponents, on the ice for 72 attempts compared to the opponents' 83, for a rate of 46.45 percent. That's a slightly lower rate than Rust saw without Malkin (50.57 percent) and Malkin saw without Rust (50.40) percent.

Last season, with or without Rust, the Malkin line was limited in defensive zone situations. Malkin was only deployed for 184 defensive zone starts all season, compared to 305 in the neutral zone and 317 in the offensive zone. Given that Malkin and his line had its share of defensive lapses, that's not surprising.

Malkin has only played in one preseason game so far, but it seemed as if Sullivan was trying his line in more defensive situations. Malkin's line started in the defensive zone four times, the most any line started in the defensive zone. The next closest was the third line, with two defensive zone starts. If Sullivan is looking to give the second line more defensive responsibility, then putting a strong two-way player like Rust on that line makes sense.

Training camp is the time to experiment with different combinations. This likely won't be the look of the lineup on opening night, and the combinations could look completely different next practice. But for now, it's another option.


• The Penguins made their first round of cuts today. More on that here.

• The Penguins signed Nathan Legare to an entry-level deal after practice. More on that here.

• The Penguins announced their roster for Saturday's game against the Blue Jackets. More on that here.

• The Penguins were down to two practice groups today, one group of 24 players (the 23 players expected to make the NHL roster, plus an additional goaltender) and another group of 21 players who will either play in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season or return to juniors.

• Again, the Penguins shuffled up their first, second, and fourth lines. Here are today's lines and pairs from the NHL practice group:

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon/Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Kahun

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson - Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson - Erik Gudbranson
Juuso Riikola - Chad Ruhwedel

• The Penguins have been working with the same top power play unit of Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, and Letang throughout camp, with the final spot alternating between Galchenyuk on the high left side and Schultz at the point.

• The second power play unit used was McCann, Galchenyuk, Hornqvist, Pettersson, and Riikola.

• The penalty killers were rotating. Bjugstad was included among the penalty killers, and he killed penalties in the last preseason game against the Blue Jackets. Bjugstad hasn't killed penalties much at all in his career -- the 4:48 of penalty killing time he saw in that game was more than he's seen in the past four years of his regular season career combined. He last killed penalties fairly regularly in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Although it's been awhile since he's been a regular on the penalty kill, Sullivan thinks Bjugstad's game makes him a good fit in that role.

"He's got a good reach, he's a mobile guy, and he's got good hockey sense," Sullivan said.

• Justin Almeida did not practice and is still rehabbing from his shoulder surgery. Adam Johnson did not practice for the third day in a row as he recovers from a lower-body injury. His status is day-to-day.

To continue reading, log into your account: