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Insider Only Debunking the Crosby-Malkin Narrative that they can’t play together

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The Malkin – Crosby Narrative

The Penguins Game 2 loss to the New York Rangers has brought out the “Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby can’t play together narrative” back to the forefront big time as Crosby and Malkin played nearly seven minutes together 5 v 5.

Heck, there’s even a crowd out there blaming Mike Sullivan’s line juggling, notably his desire to play Malkin with Crosby as one of the main reasons the Penguins lost Game 2.

The Penguins lost Game 2 because of what the Rangers were doing in all three zones not because Sullivan messed with chemistry that included playing Malkin and Crosby together a lot.

I’m not sure who started this talk years ago, but it’s caught on with so many from the fan base to even many in the media. Any time the Penguins lose a playoff game that has Malkin, Crosby playing together a little bit, the Crosby – Malkin talk that they can’t play together hits full steam as it has after Game 2.

Sullivan during a conference call today talked in depth of why he believes Malkin and Crosby can play well together.

Here is the transcript from Sullivan on the question about Malkin – Crosby.

“I’m not sure that they haven’t worked together in the past. I know that they’ve played together at times in the past and at times they’ve been apart. We should have the ability to do both, play them together at times and play them apart at times. They seem to work extremely well on the power play together. When Geno was in the lineup prior to getting hurt our power play was, for probably a 5- or 6-week span, was at 30-percent plus. I’m not one of those guys that throws an opinion around just because they’ve been used at times together in the past and certain people think it will work or it won’t work. I believe that two very good players have the ability to play with anybody and adapt their game accordingly because of their talent. Having said that, I’m not convinced that I’ll use them together moving forward. That’s something that is an option for us. If we do choose to go that route, there’s no reason why two players that are as good as they are cannot work together. They’re two elite players that think the game on a high level, and they have the ability to play a down low game and a fast, speed game off of the rush. That’s really the way I look at it. I know there’s been different schools of thought, theories in the past of how these guys have been used. Another comment that I would have is that I think both of these guys are in a different place than they were in the previous years. They’re a little bit older. They have more experience under their belt. They probably have the benefit of a little bit more perspective because they’ve gone through different experiences. We all learn from our experiences. For me, that’s how you gain wisdom. I think these guys from a mindset standpoint are in a very different place than they have been in the past.” — Mike Sullivan.

Penguin coaches have a lot of reasons to ponder why Malkin is better suited for wing at this point with no reason to breakup the Hagelin – Bonino – Kessel line.

Among one of the obvious reasons is Malkin’s arm/elbow. He is not a shooting presence at all with zero attempts in his first game and a source says it’s difficult for Malkin to take face-off’s in the left dot. Playing down low in the defensive zone also opens the opportunity for more strain on the injury.

Aside from the injury, the Penguins have a major problem in this series in that the Rangers have figured them out in the neutral zone. I’ll be illustrating this more in a Monday post but the Rangers dominating the neutral zone has altered this series in New York being the superior team 5 v 5 that has to be making the advance stats crowd go nuts.

The neutral zone is where Crosby and Malkin playing together comes into play and why they can be really dangerous together in this series in combating the Rangers neutral zone setup.

While this doesn’t go with the narrative, here’s a news flash — the two were excellent together in breaking the Rangers trap and gaining the zone in Game 2 —

5SecondsApp

Off this zone entry where Malkin draws two Rangers to him along the wall, he gets the puck to Crosby, who gains the zone, pulls up and sets up a trailing Ian Cole for a shot on goal. Conor Sheary was on the ice with Malkin and Crosby, and if that’s Patric Hornqvist, there would surely be a net-front presence (instead of Sheary hanging out on the outside) instead of Lundqvist having a clear view of the shot.

5SecondsApp (3)

Later in the first period, Malkin and Crosby combine for another zone entry with Malkin drawing two Ranger forwards to him, moves the puck over to an open Crosby down the right side, who gains the zone, and sets up Patric Hornqvist for a quick shot that almost beat Lundqvist.

5SecondsApp (2)

This is what Crosby and Malkin give you together. Malkin’s ability to break the Rangers structure in the neutral zone and make quick plays along the wall is going to open a ton of space for Crosby.

The Penguins controlled 54% of their shot attempts (5 v 5) when Malkin and Crosby were on the ice together in Game 2. Including the regular season, Crosby and Malkin have played 36:52 together 5 v 5 and the Penguins have controlled 66% of their shot attempts when those two are both on the ice.

Coming off the type of injury Malkin has, anyone wonder that maybe Malkin needs Crosby right now?

When Malkin was on the ice without Crosby at even strength in Game 2, the Penguins controlled just 16% of their shot attempts. When the Sheary – Malkin – Rust line were on the ice together, the Penguins had zero shot attempts.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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