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Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, the start of something special?

The Penguins have moved Patric Hornqvist away from Sidney Crosby and down to Evgeni Malkin's line. This is a great opportunity to see if the team can spread the talent down and get more results at even strength from Malkin.

Alex Goodlett

Some might see it as a problem, I choose to look at the Pittsburgh Penguins depth and recent line re-shuffling as an opportunity. Moving Patric Hornqvist to Evgeni Malkin‘s wing represents a chance to kick-start the second line with a skilled winger that Malkin really hasn't had all season.

Yeah, sure, Pascal Dupuis will hustle his ass off and produces points at an impressive rate, deserving of praise. Blake Comeau has looked more like his 2010-11 self (where he scored a career high 46 points) than the past few years where he's been mainly a lower line grinder of a forward. Dupuis and Comeau's results are more of will than skill, adding a player with better puck skills, like Hornqvist could be a help for Malkin.

I say an opportunity and see it as a positive- because through 14 games the Penguins are already the highest scoring team in the NHL this season, scoring 3.86 goals/game. Of course, the over-riding reason for this is an elite power play clicking at a rate of 35.6% that is already regressing back to Earth a little from the 40%+ it was a few games earlier. Still, with the talent the Penguins employ, it's not likely to abandon them. The power play is aptly named, it should power the team all season long and fuel their success.

The bigger opportunity is what comes after the season, the playoffs. The chance for a deep run. The Penguins aren't going to go into the playoffs with Dupuis and Comeau as Malkin's wingers. That's not a recipe for success. While both wingers definitely bring some grit and hustle to the table, the team has a chance to have 2 really special lines thanks to having 2 really special centers.

It's nice not to see anything set in stone. Malkin has been practicing with Nick Spaling on his left wing, to some sighs from the enlightened community of fans, but that's a temporary move too. And, in spurts, Spaling can be quite the productive player since he does a little of everything right and should be positionally a good member of an offensive minded Malkin-Hornqvist line.

Getting Malkin going at even strength could be a key to the season. Malkin has only 6 even strength points so far this season (Crosby has 12), and only one of Malkin's ES points is a goal. Granted, you have to consider Geno didn't have a pre-season and played his way into game shape on the wing, which could account for some of the lack of huge numbers early.

There's a troubling trend continuing for Malkin's shooting: it's going down. Malkin scored 50 goals in 2011-12, and that season he took 4.52 shots a game. The next season, in a lockout (and injury) shortened year it was down to 3.19 shots/game. Last year it was just 3.13 shots/game. This season, Malkin's 39 shots in 14 games divides out to 2.78, which is almost half the shots/game he was taking just a few years ago. Again, some of this is no doubt skewed by the fact he played a few games out of position on the wing, with a non-playmaking center in Brandon Sutter. That will effect shot numbers. Still, it's on Malkin to shoot the puck more if he wants to score more, especially at even strength.

Is Spaling/Hornqvist the perfect answer to solve this? Probably not, neither are terrific in-zone passers and Hornqvist's sights have been set on shooting almost every available chance he's gotten so far as a Penguin. This change might be good for him too- perhaps he was feeling over-anxious to shoot any puck that the vaunted Sidney Crosby gave him. While playing with Malkin still carries pressure, Geno is a guy who isn't shy about letting him linemates know that he wants the puck back once he dishes it out. Getting Hornqvist in the mindset now to look for more than just the immediate shot might serve him just as well as it will for Malkin.

Either way, there is still 68 games and a trade deadline to figure it all out. Even though the Chris Kunitz - Crosby - Hornqvist line has clicked exceedingly well in the first five weeks of the season, it was time to spread the wealth a little down to the second line. The Penguins have a big opportunity to make their team better if they can get their big Russian center scoring more frequently at even strength. Giving him the chance to play with Hornqvist should prove to be a step in the right direction to that end.