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Sullivan and Malkin Adjustments for Game 3

Game 2 on Saturday wasn't one of the better games for Mike Sullivan and Evgeni Malkin.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Take away the four straight losses in December after Head Coach Mike Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston and Saturday afternoon was quite possibly the worst performance by the Penguins during Sullivan's tenure.

A fair amount of the criticism should always be on those who perform and rightly so after Saturday's ghastly execution or lack-there-of by the Penguins, most notably their defensemen.

Yet, Sullivan shouldn't escape his own minus mark for how things turned but before the game it didn't appear that would be the way this one would go.

Evgeni Malkin was returning to the lineup to center his own line with Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust. Who in their right mind were going to break up the Sidney Crosby and Nick Bonino lines after their productive month without Malkin in the lineup?

It had appeared Sullivan got 'it' and that line chemistry at this point in the season was something not to be messed with at least early in the playoffs, especially after game one.

But like most coaches, Sullivan overthought the situation and tried to accommodate his star player instead of demanding the star player rise above for the betterment of the team.

The result was Sullivan breaking up the four line approach that got the Penguins into the second best record in the Eastern Conference. He started to mix and match line combinations breaking up the chemistry Crosby, Bonino, and Matt Cullen enjoyed over the last month of the season.

Malkin looked strong in the first half of period one and then didn't really do much individually for the rest of the game. Blame that on Sullivan for putting him at wing for most of the game.

The two most consistent line combinations on Saturday were Carl Hagelin - Bonino - Phil Kessel and Tom Kuhnhackl - Cullen - Eric Fehr. Not a good sign when Chris Kunitz - Crosby - Patric Hornqvist were the team's third most consistent line combination at even strength.

While Sullivan will have to adjust his deployment strategy for game three, same can be said of Malkin adjusting to the new team around him.

After the game, Malkin said he wanted to be back at center and while that's the most logical position for him, how he plays has to change. Yes, it is almost insane to ask someone like Malkin to change his game to be more north-south during the regular season but come playoff time, Malkin has to understand the stakes are higher and play within the confines of the team's philosophy in order for any of his linemates and himself to succeed.

This isn't an attempt to say Malkin is a bad teammate or is sulking on and off the ice because he won't get his way but sometimes a guy has to lose before he learns the right way. One hopes, after game two, Sullivan and Malkin can get on the same page, otherwise, game three on Tuesday will look the same at Madison Square Garden with or without Marc-Andre Fleury.