Can Pens divide and conquer?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:31 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- They have been the NHL's young Dynamic Duo so far this season, but Penguins coach Michel Therrien has decided the time has come to split up Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Midway through the club's 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Therrien took Malkin off Crosby's left wing and put the Russian back in his natural position at centre on the second line.

"We started him at the left wing with Sid just to get used to playing in the NHL," said Therrien yesterday.

"We know he's a centreman because we know this is his natural position and it's good for us. We want to have two lines that are really tough to contain.

"That was part of the plan. To give a fair chance to him, we didn't want to give him too much responsibility and we just wanted him to concentrate on his bread and butter offensively. Now, he's ready for the next step."

Malkin, who has posted seven goals and five assists in nine games heading into last night's tilt with the Senators, will line up between rookie Jordan Staal and veteran Mark Recchi to form the team's second unit.

Crosby, who's racked up six goals and 15 points in 13 games, will miss him on his line as he's enjoyed playing with Malkin since the latter returned from a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp.

"He's just so dangerous. He's such a smart player. He knows where to go on the ice," said Crosby, who saw Malkin replaced by Nils Ekman on the top line. "He uses his speed, quickness and his hands. I guess I knew all that about him already."

It's no wonder Malkin, who was kept off the scoresheet in the club's loss to the Bolts, is the first NHL player in the modern day era to score goals in his first six career games.

"He's got so much poise with the puck, he's so smart and he skates really well," said Therrien.

"He's one of those players who sees the ice that is able to make plays when there's no play.

"I'm really impressed. We knew we had a great player. The way this guy handles himself with his teammates. The guys just love him. The way he's gone about handling himself on the ice, some teams try to play him physical, but he responds pretty well. I guess he's used to that. He's been the target all the time."

The only issue Therrien has with Malkin is his inability to speak English.

Malkin has an interpreter when he's in Pittsburgh, but on the road the club uses defenceman Sergei Gonchar to communicate with the rookie.

"I don't say much to him because he doesn't understand me anyway," said Therrien.

THE KIDDIE CORPS: The Penguins' dressing room is a fun place to be. Therrien decided to give the players Thursday off after a long five-game road trip, but nearly everybody showed up at the rink. "It's a good thing," said Therrien. "They like to be around each other and they like to be here. Some guys still went on the ice a little bit just to have fun. They enjoy what they're doing and they're just having a good time right now." Recchi, one of the elder statesmen on the team, said the young players like goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Crosby and Malkin are fun to be around. "Passion for the game can take you a long way, period," said Recchi. "They all have great passion for the game. They like to be out on the ice, they like to practise and they like to play. If you have that passion then it's going to carry you."

STAYING POSITIVE: Former Senators tough guy Andre Roy is biding his team with the Pens, but hasn't ruled out being sent to the club's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., if he doesn't start playing more often. The 31-year-old Roy, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and is making $1 million US this season, has only played a combined total of 10 minutes in three of the club's 14 games this season. "I'm happy here, but I'd like to play. It's been tough to get in the lineup, but I've been through that in Tampa. I sat 24 straight games and then got a chance in the playoffs, was one of the best players and won a Stanley Cup," said Roy with a laugh.


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