Pens Split Up Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, Shake Up Lines

In a unsurprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston has split up Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Jonathan Bombulie.

A number of Johnston’s roster decisions have come under fire with the Penguins starting the season 3-4-0 and struggling to produce offense commensurate with their forward skill. Through seven games, Crosby has a goal and two assists and is averaging just under three shots per game. Though the shot total is in large part due to Crosby tying a career-high of nine shots in a single game on October 20.

For Kessel, he has two goals and an assist, along with an average of 3.4 shots per game, which should be plenty of shots to get Kessel onto the scoreboard sooner rather than later.

The duo has been nearly inseparable, spending 86:01 of even strength time together. Crosby has spent just 4:17 away from Kessel and Kessel has just 5:18 away from Crosby. When they’re on the ice together, they have put up a respectable 51.1% CF%, but the goals aren’t coming.

The new top line will feature Crosby centering Patric Hornqvist and the recently returned Pascal Dupuis. Hornqvist and Crosby have been a solid pairing since the start of last season, with a 54.7% CF% together. That’s an improvement over Hornqvist away from Crosby, though a touch down from Crosby away from Hornqvist.

The second line will see Kessel playing wing with Evgeni Malkin, keeping him with a center who can get the puck on his stick. On the other wing will be Sergei Plotnikov, who had a tough time keeping pace with Malkin through their limited time together so far.

The third line will have Nick Bonino, who says he’s healthy after Thursday’s elbow to the face from the Stars’ defenseman Jason Demers, centering Chris Kunitz and rookie Daniel Sprong. The last line will have Matt Cullen centering David Perron and Bryan Rust.

It’s a depth chart that should be formidable offensively and has not yet been able to produce. And they’ll have to produce to win games. Their are a lot of questions about the team’s blue line, even though they rank sixth in the league in goals against.

With just 11 goals for in seven games, the Pens rank 27th in raw scoring. Though, it’d be fair to chalk some of that up to a poor shooting percentage with the team shooting just 4.9% at even strength, 25th in the league. At the same time they’re getting 33.3 shots per 60 minutes of even strength play, which is third best in the league.

The shake-up makes sense because of their early season struggles, but the goals should start to come no matter what with the team producing as many shots as they are and their abnormally low shooting percentage likely to rebound. They’ll also need their power play, which continues a silly amount of fire power, to pull together. They currently sport an eight percentage success rate, third worst in the league.

These lines will first be tested on Saturday, with headed to Nashville to take on a Predators squad who has had a hot start to the season.

Advanced stats via War on Ice.