For nearly three weeks, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin skated together on the Penguins' top line, with a quantifiable degree of success. They combined for 10 goals and each had 15 points in nine games together, even while other line combinations were scrambled.
The problem was that the rest of the team languished offensively.
So, reluctantly, coach Michel Therrien broke up the two for the morning skate yesterday, moving Petr Sykora to the top line with center Crosby and Ryan Malone, and moving Malkin to second-line center with wingers Jordan Staal and Mark Recchi.
"Of course it was not easy," Therrien said of the decision to split Crosby and Malkin. "We were thinking about that a few days ago. They give us some great hockey. They score goals five-on-five. They give us power-play goals.
"But in the meantime, we've got to spread the offense and have more balance with those lines. That's the only reason."
One of Therrien's goals in redrawing his lines was to move Staal from center to left wing and reunite him with Malkin. The two played together a lot as rookies last season, when Staal had 29 goals. He had just one going into last night.
"It's to try to give a lift to Jordan," Therrien said. "It's not an easy position to play, center. He's only 19 years old. We're really satisfied about his defensive game, but with young players they feel pressure about their results offensively.
"And last year he had a lot of success with Malkin. We're hoping that combination will work again."
The other lines going into the Penguins' game at Mellon Arena against New Jersey had Erik Christensen centering Gary Roberts and Adam Hall, and Maxime Talbot centering Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque.
Sabourin subs again
Backup goaltender Dany Sabourin, who got the start ahead of struggling Marc-Andre Fleury, made his ninth appearance this season, equal to the number he made in 2006-07 as the backup in Vancouver.
The increase in playing time has helped his confidence.
"I feel pretty good in net," Sabourin said.
He's hoping his status doesn't adversely affect Fleury.
"I want to see Marc-Andre doing good, too," he said. "It doesn't take anything from me if he's doing good. I'm wishing the best for him."
Crosby had his left wrist X-rayed after being slashed by Philadelphia's Jason Smith in the third period Saturday night. "It's fine," Crosby said. ... The Devils did not have a team morning skate, with only a few players taking the ice. ... The Penguins scratched forwards Colby Armstrong and Tyler Kennedy, and defenseman Alain Nasreddine. ... New Jersey's scratch was winger Arron Asham. ... The Penguins received flu shots after the game.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.