Final Pre-Season Line Tweaks in Action

The Pittsburgh Penguins are making final pre-season tweaks to prepare the club for the much anticipated start of the 2007-2008 NHL Season this week.  In addition to making the final roster cuts yesterday, the Penguins organization returned to the ice and got down to the business of adjusting the lines, practicing the system and getting ready for a strong start to the season.   

Coach Therrien is shuffling up the lines and the word on the street is that there will be a different look to the lines for the season opener in Carolina on Friday night.  If you were one of the hardcore fans that grumbled about player line placements during the pre-season, you will probably like the look of the line changes employed during the first post-exhibition practice on Monday.  They are likely a preview of what we will see on Friday night, and possibly longer if the combinations work:

Forwards

  1. Jordan Staal—Sidney Crosby—Petr Sykora
  2. Ryan Malone—Evgeni Malkin—Mark Recchi
  3. Gary Roberts—Erik Christensen—Colby Armstrong
  4. Jarkko Ruutu—Maxime Talbot—Georges Laraque

Defense

  1. Mark Eaton—Sergei Gonchar
  2. Brooks Orpik—Ryan Whitney
  3. Darryl Sydor—Rob Scuderi

Perhaps the most encouraging element of this line-up is the movement of sophomore Jordan Staal from third line Center to first line Wing.  This will not only benefit Staal, but I believe it will pay dividends across the front line in terms of pure playmaking and scoring capability.  Last year, Jordan Staal mentioned the difficulty of getting used to the speed of the game and how quickly the play unfolds.  It is certainly understandable for a rookie to be challenged by the transition into the NHL.  This year, however, he will have to have his head and stick on a swivel if he is going to keep up with Sidney Crosby and Petr Sykora.  I think there is a real chance for some magical chemistry here, but only if Staal can handle all of the creative plays that Crosby is sure to initiate.

Another promising aspect of the line-up seen in practice on Monday is the appropriate use of Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts to round out the second and third lines.  These are the roles that these two players should play this year, ceding the way to the younger generation to pick up the torch and carry it.  Combined, they have decades of experience in the NHL and plenty of skill to boot, but they are the “greybeards” of the team and need to serve as the foundation upon which the youth and speed of the team can build upon.  

The line-up above uses the traditional arrangement of speed and skill up front, and increased grit as you go down.  There is tremendous depth in the forward lines with significant goal generating capability resident within each of the top three lines.  It will be a challenge for some teams to be able to roll the lines the way that Pittsbugh should be able to do this year.  This should bode well for the Penguins offensive game. 

On defense, the pairings are a bit surprising in that I would expect to see different matchings.  Certainly the Mark Eaton and Sergei Gonchar pairing is a welcome sign after their success early last year before Eaton was sidelined with a wrist injury.  As far as the pairings go, Perhaps Coach Therrien is attempting to shore up his defensive corps by ensuring that all of his defensive talent isn’t on the ice at the same time, leaving a possible weak flank with his lower defensive pairings.  Time will tell if these pairings (and the forward matchups for that matter) hold very long into the season.  I certainly hope that he finds a combination that works well and shores up the defensive corps. 

The Penguins have a couple more days to settle in before they start the long journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Today, the NHL Center Ice Package was ordered and the HD TiVo-equipped 55″ HDTV sits ready for 82-games of glorious, pulse pounding, Penguins hockey action.  Let the games begin! 

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