Hunt continues for Crosby's winger
Sidney Crosby has had a few linemates during his three-plus seasons with the Penguins.
OK, a few dozen.
Or maybe a few hundred.
In any case, only a handful -- and that's being generous -- have meshed with him, created a partnership that brings out the very best in both.
Marian Hossa, for sure. Evgeni Malkin, too. And, to some degree, Colby Armstrong and Andy Hilbert, although neither has the skill level usually associated with first-line wingers.
Experiments with various guys who have goal-scoring pedigrees (Miroslav Satan being the most recent) have had mostly disappointing results, and the parade of wingers who were ordinary, at best, during their time alongside Crosby has become almost a blur.
Some guys might have been intimidated by having him for a center, while many others were Hail Mary selections unqualified to fill such a prominent role.
Finding a linemate whose game truly complements Crosby's -- and will allow the Penguins to get the full benefit of Crosby's playmaking abilities -- remains a top priority for general manager Ray Shero and his staff. Ideally, it would happen in time to help the Penguins salvage this season.
The catch: Such players aren't often available and, when they are, the price tends to border on prohibitive.
Remember, Shero had to send three players (Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito) and a first-round draft choice to Atlanta for Hossa and Pascal Dupuis last winter, and the Thrashers were willing to do that only because Hossa was poised to become an unrestricted free agent and had made it clear he didn't care to return to Atlanta.
The Penguins' top goal-scoring winger is Petr Sykora, who has developed a chemistry with Malkin over the past two seasons. There's not much chance coach Michel Therrien will voluntarily split them and, in any case, Sykora and Crosby have produced mostly lackluster results when used together.
And so Crosby enters the game against San Jose at 7:38 tonight at Mellon Arena flanked by Dupuis, his usual left winger most of the past year, and Tyler Kennedy. Both are solid NHL players committed to playing all-out, all over the ice who have proven willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of their team.
Neither, however, has a game tailored to first-line duty, in part because of who that entails playing against.
"If you play with Sid, you have to face the top defensive pairings in the league, game-in and game-out," Therrien said. "When you're playing on the third line, you're playing against the third pairing. It's really demanding to play with elite players like that. That's why you need special players."
If Crosby is frustrated by any of this -- and it's hard to imagine how he couldn't be -- he doesn't let on. He never has, and likely never will, utter a public syllable critical of any linemate (or any teammate, for that matter), because that is not his style.
"I don't dwell on it," he said. "It's not up to me who I play with. My job is to create things out there. It's what I have to do, no matter what."
Indeed, one suspects that he could be dispatched between a rhododendron and a dachshund and still would go out of his way to express his respect and appreciation for all they contribute to his line's success.
Although Hossa is playing elsewhere these days, Therrien still has the option of deploying Crosby and Malkin together, and does that on occasion, usually when the Penguins are desperate to manufacture a goal.
"He's worked really well with [Malkin]," Therrien said. "But for the benefit of our team [they have to be on separate lines most of the time]. What do we get from the rest?"
Malkin shares most of the traits that made Hossa such a lethal partner for Crosby. He skates well, he works hard all over the ice, his instincts are keen and he has great hands.
If a guy is willing to work to get open, has the hockey sense to determine where the soft spots in a defense are and possesses a good touch around the net -- and/or a quick release and accurate shot -- he could put up some gaudy numbers with Crosby feeding him pucks.
Take even one of those qualities away, though, and the partnership suffers considerably.
While Therrien noted that "Sid's doing pretty well" even without a linemate of Hossa's caliber, he doesn't disagree that Crosby's output could rise significantly if the Penguins can turn up a winger to complement him.
"Good players," he said, "need to play with good players."
First Published February 11, 2009 12:00 am