I said a while ago the Penguins depth players are every bit as good as those crucial role guys from the ’90 and ’91 cup years. That makes the Malkin conundrum a little easier.
With Malkin out of the lineup, most players on the roster have thrived and many players have developed that all important intangible: chemistry. So where do you insert Malkin now without causing too much of a shake up?
The talent of Crosby and the talent of whoever plays with him doesn’t necessarily guarantee production. Kunitz seems to be the only one who can consistently make magic with Sid. Putting Malkin on the top line just doesn’t make sense.
So obviously he’s a second line player then, right? But that would severely damage the relationship of Hags, Kessel, and Bonino. Not only would this potentially eliminate an already solidly clicking weapon, it would also waste Malkin. Kessel and Hagelin are both speedy and both love carrying the puck. Adding Malkin, another speedy possession guy, would only limit the amount of time each can have the biscuit. I’m sure they’d find a way to score a few goals, but it wouldn’t take full advantage of the skill set they all have.
So what’s left? You can’t possibly suggest putting Malkin in the bottom six, can you? Actually, I think that’s the best place for him.
My third line would be Malkin between Kuhnachkl and Sheary. Cullen would slide down to the “fourth” line with Fehr and insert-final-roster-spot-here. (I have opinions on that spot,but with Sestito probably going to be suspended for his blindside hit to Matt Read in game 82, options are somewhat limited. That’s for another article).
Putting Malkin on the third line would not only play to the strengths of Geno himself, it would also very much play to the strengths of Coach Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan is the guru of sneaking the top guys on for extra mini shifts with bottom sixers. It makes it very hard to line match against. An opponent will already have issues line matching if Sid and Geno are actually two lines apart(first and third) instead of one. It’s way less predictable when they’ll be on the ice. Plus those mini shifts might sometimes contain Crosby OR Malkin on with randoms, and they’ll also contain both Malkin AND Crosby. Essentially you have to match up against the world’s best on three lines. That isn’t happening.
You could argue that all of that is possible with Malkin on a second line as well, but remember how disruptive it will be to the chemistry of the current second line, taking away one more level of fear. Malkin on a third line would essentially create a situation where other coaches would have to worry about Malkin and Crosby separately, Malkin and Crosby together, AND the combination of Hagelin, Kessel and Bonino. Covering three lines is hard enough. Covering four top-two calibre lines, especially when their appearance would be so unpredictable, is pretty much impossible.