Monday, October 13, 2014

Crosby, like Lemieux, finding success with power forwards

Chris Kunitz, PatrickHornqvist and Sidney Crosby are off to a fast start.

Sidney Crosby, like Mario Lemieux before him, has seen his share of wings come and go over the course of his career.
Sure, he had some continuity with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis over the past few seasons, but there were times when he’d see a new face on his line with each passing shift, let alone on a game-by-game basis.
Head coach Mike Johnston opted to break up that continuity by moving Dupuis, replacing him with newcomer Patric Hornqvist, but that combo looks like it could be even better.
‘’[Hornqvist] competes hard, goes to the net hard,’’ Crosby said of his new linemate. ‘’He’s got a great shot so I think between the three of us we try to dig loose pucks out, go to the net and generate chances.’’
It is also something that resembles one of the most effective lines that Lemieux played on over the course of his career.
The Penguins’ owner spent the 1992-93 season and parts of two others skating on a line with Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet and the eighth highest-scorer in franchise history, Kevin Stevens.
Both wings were considered to be among the best power forwards of that era.
What was unique about the line was the fact that it gave Lemieux two hard-nosed options that were willing to go to the net and were big enough to hold their own physically. Both were also quick to go to battle with those that rattled the cage of their center.
Their most effective season came during that ‘92-’93 campaign when the trio combined to roll up 380 points, 139 of which came on the power play.
Kunitz and Hornqvist might not be as big as Tocchet and Stevens, but they possess many of the same attributes.
Both players are comfortable in the dirty areas around the net. Each possesses the hands to finish plays in that high-traffic area and neither seems inclined to defer to a high-profile center. They have also contributed to the power play.
All of that has, at least through two games, turned into a lot of offensive success.
“We hadn’t had that line together in preseason, only once,” Johnston said. “You’re always hoping that those combinations would work as you expect. I thought Patric Hornqvist added a lot to that line.”
Crosby, who led the league’s scoring race through the games on Saturday night with six points, has seen his line spark the Penguins to a perfect 2-0-0 record to start the season. His linemates have gotten in on the act as well, as Kunitz and Hornqvist have combined for six points of their own.
Hornqvist might be the biggest surprise.
“He goes to the net hard,” Crosby said. “He’s going to be around the net and create a lot of havoc there, so whether it means throwing pucks more often there or maybe kind of looking there first knowing he gets there pretty often. But yeah, he just goes to the net a lot. I think that’s one thing that kind of stood out right away.”
The book on the Swedish forward was well known when he arrived in Pittsburgh – grit, character, hands and goalscoring ability – but there weren’t many predicting just how big an impact he would have this early in the season.
The 27-year-old has picked up two points in each of his first two games, he has logged two power play points, but what might be most impressive is the frequency with which he is putting pucks on goal. He’s rolled up 13 shots on the young season, while actually attempting nine more that were blocked and or missed the net.
“Obviously I’m a power forward who likes to take pucks to the net and create some space for my teammates and give my teammates some energy too,” Hornqvist said. “I try to be the net front guy and tried to score on tips and rebounds. Now it’s a little different with Sid out there and you have to try and get open.”
The line is on pace for 492 points on the season, which likely will not happen, but even with some drop off it is pretty obvious that the trio will find themselves on to the scoresheet more often than not.
There is also a chance that Johnston will tinker with his combinations, as he currently has center Evgeni Malkin playing on the right wing, but the production of his top unit combined with the chemistry that seems to be forming between Malkin and linemates Dupuis and Brandon Sutter just might keep it all in intact.
“We’ve still got a lot of things we can improve,” Crosby said. “But it’s nice to see the puck going in. We’ve had a good first couple of games.”

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