Courtesy of Point Park University

Sullivan’s response: Simon returns to top line


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Dominik Simon. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- After a disastrous season opener Thursday night against the Sabres, Mike Sullivan shuffled things up in the Penguins' practice Friday.

The second line, the only one that showed any real energy in the opener, was the only forward line to remain intact. Patric Hornqvist, who seemed to have lost a step in the opener, was moved from the top line back to the third line. Dominik Kahun was bumped from the third line to the fourth line ... leaving Dominik Simon to be put back on the top line. That has the lines looking like this:

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

On defense, the top pairing of Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang stayed together. Marcus Pettersson and Justin Schultz were reunited, and the Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson pairing made a return:

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

After the Penguins looked as disjointed as they did against the Sabres, the coaching staff needs to put together a more cohesive lineup.

"I think the biggest takeaway for me after breaking the film down was there was a lot of isolated effort, not cooperative effort," Sullivan said. "That's what we showed them on film this morning. We've got to work together as a group of five out there in order to get the puck back. If we have the puck, we've got to work together to support one another. I think if we do that, I figure it breeds confidence. It's a hard game when it's isolated effort, the league is too good. We tried to show them some examples of that today, and hopefully we'll have a more conscious effort of understanding what your job is out there."

The part of those forward configurations that everyone is going to want to talk about is, of course, Simon back on the top line with Crosby and Guentzel. That would be despite the fact that the top line was at its best by multiple measures (including goals scored vs. allowed) with that configuration last season, and when Simon was on that line last season (which was only 30 percent of the time), he was a half-a-point-per-game player.

"They're unbelievable players," Simon said of his linemates, Crosby and Guentzel. "You see the chemistry they have. It's always fun to play with them. Last year, we had games we scored goals, we had some games we didn't. Just trying to bring my best to the line. Just play my game, and believe in what we do, execute the chances, and keep playing the same game."

The key word there, I think, is "we." No, Simon wasn't the finisher. But the line, the "we," was scoring more. The top line with Simon averaged 5.3 goals per 60 minutes last season. That's higher than Crosby and Guentzel's combined Goals For average with all wingers, which was 4.29. With Hornqvist, that number fell to 3.46. With McCann, that number was 3.52. With Rust, 3.38.  That average of 5.3 is significantly higher than with other combinations.

Simon was asked what he learned from his time spent on that line last season.

"What do you learn? Pfft," he scoffed. "What do you learn? You learn so much. Even when you're on the ice with them, when you see them, just, (Crosby) is an unbelievable player. It doesn't matter if you're with him or on the team or on the line, he just leads the right way. You just learn so much stuff."


• Another thing about that lineup that people are going to want to talk about is the combination of Johnson and Gudbranson, given that it's not common to put two players who play similar styles like they do on the same pairing. I'm not entirely convinced that they'll see a game together.

The organization is obviously high on John Marino, given that he's still here and not starting his professional career off in Wilkes-Barre. And if the coaching staff wants to inject some much-needed energy into the lineup, the 22-year-old kid straight out of college wouldn't be a bad choice, especially given how weak the defense was last game.

Marino says he hasn't been told if he'll be in the lineup Saturday against the Blue Jackets, but he sounds ready to go.

"That'd be pretty cool," he told me. "First NHL game? It's something I'd always remember, it'd be pretty special. ... (Coming into this season) I just thought if I played my game, got a couple of good bounces, hopefully things would work out. You just try to keep a positive mind and just take it one game at a time. You don't really think about whether you're making the team or not, you just take it one step at a time."

• The top power play unit was Justin Schultz, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Crosby, and Guentzel.

• The second power play unit was Pettersson, Letang, Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad, and Kahun

• A couple of guys killed penalties against the top power play unit. One combination was Marino, Chad RuhwedelBrandon Tanev, and Zach Aston-Reese. Another was Dumoulin, Ruhwedel, Tanev, and Teddy Blueger.

• The group working against the second power play unit was Simon, Jared McCann, and Juuso Riikola, with Johnson and Gudbranson alternating in the last spot.

• Meanwhile in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Emil Larmi got some extra work in after practice with a young fan, putting on the theatrics with a big windmill save:

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