Kunitz back on line with Crosby, Dupuis

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Breaking up is hard to do. And so, Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis were back together Thursday as the Penguins top line at practice.

It seems as if those three always end up together, and in this case it meant that Jarome Iginla moved to Evgeni Malkin's line on his natural side, the right wing, with James Neal moving from the right side to left wing.

"I'm sure [coach Dan Bylsma] is pretty comfortable with us because we've played together for so long," said Crosby, the top-line center.

Whether Bylsma keeps his top two lines looking like that tonight in Game 2 of the second-round playoff series against Ottawa remains to be seen. He began to go with this look late in a 4-1 win in Game 1, but the situation raises a couple of interesting points about where the team's top four wingers fit best.

Iginla, acquired from Calgary in March, had been playing with Malkin, but mostly at left wing. Neal has been Malkin's regular right winger since he switched from being a left winger for his first full season with the Penguins, 2011-12.

With Crosby missing most of 2011-12 because of injury, Kunitz played primarily on the left side with Malkin and Neal. He was back there recently, which allowed Iginla to play right wing with Crosby and the versatile Dupuis, who moved to the left side.

"When Jarome first got here, he immediately was more comfortable on his own side, his right side," Bylsma said. "After about three or four games, he came to me and said, 'It doesn't matter. If there's an opportunity for me to play the left side, I'm good with that, too.'

"So we've used him on both sides of his centerman. We've used him on his strong side. We've used him on his off side. I think he'll continue to play on both sides as we go forward, depending on who his linemates are and the situation."

There have been a lot of armchair coaches who would like to see Iginla remain as Crosby's right winger, so that Iginla might be more comfortable and because the two played together in Vancouver in the 2010 Olympics, where Iginla set up Crosby for the overtime goal that won Canada the gold medal. Those same second-guessers call for Kunitz to play with Malkin so Neal can remain on the right side and so that formation might recapture its fire from 2011-12, when Malkin won the NHL scoring title and league MVP and Neal scored 40 goals.

You ask the Penguins, though, and they don't care which wingers play where.

"Honestly, once you get out there, half the time we're on one [side] and half the time we're on the other," said Iginla, who has scored at least one point in all seven playoff games.

"It doesn't really play in my mind much or, I don't think, make a big difference, especially the style we play, with how we break out."

Neal pointed out that earlier he and Iginla alternated wings on the fly at times while playing with Malkin.

"We were switching back and forth," Neal said. "He's a guy who has a great shot. He works so hard for the puck and wins all of his [puck] battles. We'll be good. We'll get our chemistry going. We've talked a little bit about what we need to do to get better as a line."

The Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line is one the Penguins have employed a lot the past several years when all are healthy.

Crosby said there is an adjustment to having Dupuis, who is a left-handed shot, or Iginla, who is a right-handed shot, on his right wing.

"It's a little bit different having a right shot," Crosby said. "[Iginla] is able to make a lot more plays off of his forehand side, so he probably expects the puck a little bit more in certain areas -- which is good.

"It's a little bit tougher when [Dupuis] is on there to make a backhand play, even though he says he can do it."

Crosby smiled at the little jab he took at Dupuis.

Bylsma likewise was less than somber when relaying the story of how Neal got moved from left wing to right wing. It began when Bylsma had a conversation he has with all wingers, about where they are comfortable playing.

"He said, 'I've only played the left,' " Bylsma recalled of Neal. "I said, 'That's great. That means that's four or five minutes a game you won't be playing with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.' He turned back around and said, 'I'll try the right.' "

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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