Evgeni Malkin meshed well with James Neal and Jussi Jokinen last season, but neither of his wingers are returning to Pittsburgh for 2014-15. As a result, one of Mike Johnston’s first tasks as Pittsburgh’s new bench boss will be remaking the second line.
Rather than focus on three-forward units, Johnston is more interested in finding at least one winger that each center can count on playing with regularly and then change up the third player as the situation warrants. The idea is that it will provide each line with a degree of stability without completely sacrificing flexibility. So for example, Johnston likes the way Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby play together, so they’re projected to typically make up two-thirds of the first line.
Before his 2013-14 campaign was cut short due to a knee injury, Pascal Dupuis was typically the third man on that top unit, but that might not be the case under Johnston.
“(Dupuis) can play anywhere in the lineup,” Johnston told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He certainly has played well with Sid before. Can he play well with (Malkin)? That’s what we’ve got to see.”
Patric Hornqvist, who was acquired from Nashville in the Neal trade, is another serious contender to be Malkin’s partner.
Although neither is likely to start the season as Malkin’s full-time linemate, 22-year-old Beau Bennett and 2014 first round draft pick Kasperi Kapanen will also be watched closely during training camp to see where — and in Kapanen’s case if — they might fit in.
Regardless of who Johnston picks, the bigger question regarding Malkin is his health. He was limited to 60 games last season and has a lengthy history of injuries. If he stays healthy, he’ll likely be effective with almost any wingers, but if he keeps ending up on the sidelines then obviously it won’t matter who he’s been paired with.
Following his stunning 41-game suspension, it looks like Raffi Torres has at least one former teammate in his corner.
We haven’t yet seen how the San Jose Sharks or the NHLPA are reacting to the league’s hammer-dropping decision to punish Torres for his Torres-like hit on Jakob Silfverberg, but Jason Demers decided to put in a good word for Torres tonight.
It was a simple message: “#FreeTorres.”
Demers, now of the Dallas Stars, was once with Torres and the Sharks. (In case this post’s main image didn’t make that clear enough already.)
Perhaps this will become “a thing” at some point.
So far, it seems like it’s instead “a thing (that people are making fun of).”
… You get the idea.
The bottom line is that there are some who either a) blindly support Torres because they’re Sharks fans or b) simply think that the punishment was excessive.
The most important statement came from the Department of Player Safety, though.
Those who feel as though the Boston Bruins may rebound – John Tortorella, maybe? – likely rest some of their optimism on the back of a healthy Zdeno Chara.
It’s possible that he’s merely limping into what may otherwise be a healthy 2015-16 season, but it’s definitely looking like a slow start thanks to a lower-body injury.
The latest sign of a bumpy beginning came on Monday, as several onlookers (including CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty) pointed out that Chara was listed on injured reserve.
As Haggerty notes, that move is retroactive to Sept. 24, so his status really just opens up options for the Bruins.
Still … it’s a little unsettling, isn’t it?
The Bruins likely realize that they need to transition away from their generational behemoth, but last season provided a stark suggestion that may not be ready yet. Trading Dougie Hamilton and losing Dennis Seidenberg to injury only make them more dependent on the towering 38-year-old.
This isn’t really something to panic about, yet it might leave a few extra seats open on the Bruins’ bandwagon.