PITTSBURGH - So where does Sidney Crosby fit into the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup?
What a delightful "problem" to have.
At this time of year, most NHL coaches are trying to find a way to work around injury absences. The Penguins' Dan Bylsma is working on a plan to add a world-class talent to his lineup for the stretch drive and playoffs.
There's been strong sentiment against disrupting the Penguins' top line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. That's understandable.
That combination has been a force for the Penguins, and carried the team while Crosby has been out since Dec. 5 with a recurrence of his concussion symptoms.
But lately the big line hasn't been quite as big.
Entering today's home game against Boston, Neal had three goals in his previous 17 games.
Malkin had three fairly quiet games after the Penguins returned from their trip to Dallas and Denver.
Still, it isn't quite time to shake things up with Crosby's latest comeback.
Other wingers have had difficulty playing with Malkin. Bylsma pointed to Tyler Kennedy as one who couldn't seem to stay out of Malkin's way on the ice.
That isn't an issue with Neal and Kunitz.
They know how to work with him and they bring some specific skills to the combination: Neal's quick release and accurate shot, and Kunitz's presence in front of the net, which creates opportunities for rebounds and deflections.
Both wingers can also play a physical game, which helps open space for Malkin as well.
So keep the top unit together.
Pascal Dupuis should be one of Crosby's wingers. Should Jordan Staal be the other?
Staal is having an outstanding season despite missing significant time with a knee injury.
He's matured into a solid two-way player who is now getting the most out of his offensive skills.
Moving him to the wing takes away some of what he brings, but it's hard to resist the temptation.
Maybe the bigger issue is how Crosby fits on the power play. He and Malkin both like to play the half boards on the right side.
Mario Lemieux recently pointed out that Crosby is effective down low, too.
But Lemieux, who knows something about power plays, had the best answer when he suggested that maybe the two superstars could switch positions at times when the Penguins are in the offensive zone.
Imagine an opponent, already playing short, and trying to keep track of two world-class players.
That's why Crosby's return is a problem for the opposing coaches, not the Penguins' staff.
When the Penguins traded for Marian Hossa at the 2008 trade deadline, he got most of the attention.
Rightfully so, as Hossa was a proven goal scorer being added to a team that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The secondary focus was on what the Penguins had given the Atlanta Thrashers to get Hossa: former first-round draft picks Colby Armstrong and Angelo Esposito, that year's No. 1 pick and Erik Christensen, who had become a shootout specialist for the Penguins.
The least attention was given to the "other" player the Penguins got from Atlanta, Pascal Dupuis.
Yet four years later, Dupuis is the one player still the with same team and the one who has been contributing regularly for the Penguins.
He's been a unsung hero of sorts, although he's on pace to get another 20-goal season.
Dupuis has exceptional speed, which plays on offense and defense. He's big and strong and brings a physical presence.
He's a solid second or third-line winger who can also fill in at center when needed. His penalty-killing work is a major plus.
Just goes to show that any judgment of a trade takes time.
Who knew that Dupuis would wind up being such a big part of that deal at the time?
Cast in bronze
The Mario Lemieux statute unveiling was held at noon at Wednesday, right after the Penguins had completed their morning skate in advance of that night's game against Toronto.
Hockey players are creatures of habit, and the game-day routine is morning skate, lunch, afternoon nap.
That schedule got disrupted when the Penguins players were told they were attending the statute ceremony on Centre Avenue.
It was pretty obvious the last-minute notice took them by surprise.
"That's why you saw guys in sweatpants and ragged t-shirts," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Everyone else was wearing a suit."
The road ahead
After a stretch of four home games in seven days, the schedule gets tough this week for the Penguins.
They play three divisional games in four days, beginning Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. They then have afternoon games in New Jersey on Saturday and at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Thursday's game is a must-win (in regulation) for the Penguins to keep their faint hopes of catching the Rangers alive.
They can't even let it get to overtime, they need to deny the Rangers any points and pick up two of their own.
This is one of two remaining games against New York. The other will be at Consol Energy Center on April 5.
The Penguins are 2-2 against the Rangers, 1-3 vs. the Devils and 1-2 against the Flyers.