Now that the NHL lockout is over...time to talk about line combinations!
Looks like we will be opening this shortened season in Philadelphia next Saturday, 1-19-13 at 3:00 p.m.
Hockey's back, baby...so we might as well kick it off in style vs. the Flyers.
The biggest question on my mind is what to do with Chris Kunitz.
Last season, he was part of an awesome top line with Malkin and Neal (resulted in Geno winning league MVP honors and James being named an All-Star). However, before Crosby's concussion issues, Sid was playing out-of-his mind with an awesome point scoring streak while playing with Kunitz and Dupuis.
It would have been great if we were able to sign Zach Parise (having Parise-Crosby-Dupuis and Kunitz-Malkin-Neal as your top two lines would have been awesome). It also would have been nice to land Shane Doan (having Doan-Malkin-Neal and Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis as your top two lines also would have been pretty sweet). But, alas, neither of those scenarios came to pass, so now we must fill that slot with what we got.
Looks like the team plans to reunite Kunitz with Crosby and Dupuis for the time being, so we need someone to step up and play with Geno and Neal. They appear to be giving Tyler Kennedy the first shot to earn spot in the top-6. However, I'm not sure if TK's trigger-happy way of firing pucks from bad angles all the time will necessarily mesh well with Geno and Neal.
My best case scenario would have Beau Bennett stepping up to the forefront during this week-long training camp (in his first pro season, he leads the W-B/S Pens with 23 points in 29 games...6 goals and 17 assists). I like him better with Sid than Geno, though...if Beau is indeed ready to go, I would go with Kunitz-Malkin-Neal and Bennett-Crosby-Dupuis as the top two lines. However, he may not be ready for the jump just yet (remember, he only played 10 games of college hockey last season before suffering a wrist injury). It may be best to let him finish out his first full pro season in the AHL to fully develop before throwing him to the wolves.
If Beau needs more AHL seasoning, then I might consider playing Sutter up with Malkin and Neal (not just automatically assuming that he'll take over 3rd line center duties from Staal...he's have a role similar to the one Jordan had on our PK units for sure, but why couldn't he be a top-6 forward for us?). If Sutter proves to be the best man available to play up with Geno and Neal, then I think Joe Vitale has shown enough that he could hold down the 3rd line center spot between Cooke and Kennedy.
That would give us the following:
(with Beau Bennett and Eric Tangradi trying to muscle their way into the lineup).
The top two defensive pairs will likely be Letang-Orpik and Niskanen-Martin. We also still have Engelland-Lovejoy on the roster as the potential 3rd pairing, but they will face some heavy competition from the likes of Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, and Joe Morrow.
Note: the team announce that for the first 4 home games, all merchandise for sale at the arena will be half price, and everyone in attendance will receive 3 free concession items (can choose from hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, nachos, popcorn, pretzels, salads and fountain drinks).