Dan Bylsma may have tipped his hand in the third period of the Penguins’ win over Carolina on Saturday.
The score tied, 3-3, to start the final session, Bylsma rolled a line that consisted of left winger Chris Kuntiz, center Evgeni Malkin and right winger James Neal.
That was the Penguins’ top line for most of last season, when Malkin led the NHL in scoring and was MVP and Neal hit the 40-goal mark. However, upon captain Sidney Crosby’s return to the lineup in March 2012, Kunitz resumed playing with Crosby and right winger Pascal Dupuis.
Bylsma has not committed to which players will play with one another upon Crosby’s return, but Bylsma could keep Kunitz-Malkin-Neal as a unit if he opted to move Dupuis to the left side on a line with Crosby and right winger Jarome Iginla.
Dupuis played the left wing with Crosby and right winger Marian Hossa during the Penguins’ run to the 2009 Cup Final. Dupuis said he is comfortable working either side.
Malkin getting going is key for the Penguins.
The 2009 playoff MVP and leading scorer, Malkin totaled 24 goals and 58 points as the Penguins went 30-14 that spring and the one prior.
He, like Crosby, missed the 2011 playoffs because of injury.
However, Malkin has amassed only eight goals and 23 points in 24 playoff games outside of 2008 and 2009, and the Penguins are 10-14 in those other postseason contests, including two Round 1 defeats.
“One of the real focuses for (the Carolina) game was your individual game, being at your best going into the playoffs, and more than anyone it means a lot to (Malkin) to have a game like this, to play like this,” Bylsma said of Malkin, who scored his ninth goal and recorded two assists while attempting seven shots – attempted shots always a sign of his confidence level – against the Hurricanes.
“In that regard it was a very big game for Evgeni Malkin to explode, make some plays.”
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Rob Rossi covers the Penguins and NHL for Trib Total Media and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He is ClearChannel’s Penguins Insider. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib.