Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby’s broken jaw is healing and showing no signs of post-concussion syndrome.
But he remains, as does elite winger James Neal – who is recovering from a concussion suffered against the New York Rangers.
That is forcing the Penguins to shuffle their lines and give bigger roles to newcomers Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen during the final three weeks of the regular season.
Chris Kunitz enjoys great chemistry with Crosby. Kunitz jumps into defensive zone holes and gets off quick, accurate shots. That makes him the perfect partner for the slick passing Crosby.
Evgeni Malkin has a great working relationship with Neal, who uses his size and reach to earn scoring opportunities.
“I hope he comes back soon, before the playoffs,” Malkin told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “I miss him.”
During Pittsburgh’s current three-game road trip, Malkin is flanked by Kunitz and Iginla.
“We immediately had some comfort level putting Chris on that line with Geno,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters. “That's what we'll definitely be seeing going forward, starting in Carolina.”
With the man advantage, Jokiken fills Neal’s void on the top unit with Malkin, Matt Niskanen, Kunitz and Iginla. Replacing Neal, an 18-goal scorer this season, is no small task.
“There's definitely a void on the ice and in the locker room,” Kunitz told the Tribune Review. “He's a guy that comes around and will chirp guys and make the room kind of light. His ability to create space for himself and shoot the puck is something that this team hasn't had in a while, a guy who can get open and has really clicked with Geno. So there's going to be maybe a little bit of a learning curve, but we'll have to fight through it.”
The second power play unit features Morrow with Beau Bennett, Tyler Kennedy, Brenden Morrow, Pascal Dupuis and Mark Eaton. The team sorely misses power-play quarterback Kris Letang, who is on the comeback from toe and groin muscle injuries.