A lot of things can prompt a coach to juggle his line combinations. A gut feeling isn't one of them, the Penguins' Dan Bylsma said yesterday.
"It's not just how I am feeling or instinctive," Bylsma said.
At the morning skate, Bylsma made a couple of significant moves with his forward units in advance of the game last night against the Ottawa Senators at Mellon Arena.
Essentially, he switched the centers on the Penguins' top two lines. He had Sidney Crosby skating between Ruslan Fedotenko and Pascal Dupuis. Those two wingers usually skate with center Evgeni Malkin (although Tyler Kennedy spent the previous couple of days on Malkin's right side).
Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin moved from Crosby's line to Malkin's. That left the most-often used version of the third line intact, with Jordan Staal centering Matt Cooke and Kennedy.
Bylsma said situations in games -- he wants to give someone more or less playing time based on how he is playing, or special teams are limiting five-on-five play -- are more likely to spark changes.
In this case, apparently part of the reasoning had to do with Dupuis catching Bylsma's eye Monday in a 4-0 loss to New Jersey.
"Last game, I thought Pascal Dupuis had one of his better games five on five, so you want to get him out there in different situations," Bylsma said. "That may be one of the reasons."
The players accepted the change without a fuss.
"Change is always good," Dupuis said.
"Mixing things up. It's something that happens," Crosby said. "We switched centers. That's basically it."
Ottawa needed to switch things around, too, but it was based on personnel. The Senators got three players back from injury in the same game.
No. 1 goaltender Pascal Leclaire started after missing 15 games because of a broken cheekbone. He and rugged winger Chris Neil (14 games lost because of a left knee injury) already had been expected back.
Winger Shean Donovan, who had missed 17 games, got clearance in the morning to return from an MCL problem in his right knee dating to a hit by the Penguins' Cooke.
"The MCL healed as quick or quicker than I expected," coach Cory Clouston said. "We've missed guys pretty much from day one. Getting those two [forwards] back gives us some energy and adds some size and grit."
The Senators still weren't at full strength. Center Jason Spezza, one of their top offensive players, missed his fifth game in row because of a right knee injury.
After the game, the Penguins entered the NHL-mandated Christmas break. They are off until an evening practice Saturday.
Although several players will make the trek home for a quick visit, others plan on staying here.
That includes Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who didn't have time to go home to Russia.
"I think I'm staying here," Malkin said. "My friends are coming. I'll have vacation here."
Gonchar and his family hoped to drive to a nearby resort.
"We're pretty much just going to take a couple days off," said Gonchar, noting that his Russian Orthodox Christmas isn't until Jan. 7.
Forward Mike Rupp has roots in nearby Cleveland and Erie, but he still planned on celebrating in Pittsburgh with extended family.
"I just want to spend some time watching the kids get excited and open their presents," he said.
Someone reminded Bylsma that the previous time the Penguins and Senators played, a 6-2 Ottawa victory Nov. 19 at Ottawa, the Canadian media put a lot of emphasis on the fact that Crosby wasn't scoring. He had one goal in 10 games going into that game.
Since then, Crosby has 12 goals in 14 games.
"Thank you," Bylsma told visiting reporters.
Vladislav Tretiak, GM of the Russian Olympic team, watched the game from the press box. ... The Penguins scratched defenseman Mark Eaton, who has what is believed to be a knee injury, and winger Eric Godard. ... Ottawa scratched defenseman Chris Campoli.