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Mark Madden: Sidney Crosby will be demanding of right-wing running mate | TribLIVE.com
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Mark Madden: Sidney Crosby will be demanding of right-wing running mate

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skates during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Sidney Crosby has been called hockey’s best grinder ever. He doesn’t like that.

Another description: No hockey player has ever colored inside the lines better.

Crosby plays with relentless precision. Hockey 101 at a Master’s degree level. Occasionally, Crosby does something rarely seen before. More often, he executes standard fare at a level nobody else approaches.

For example, everybody plays on the backhand. Just not as well as Crosby, or as much. It’s a common occurrence. Crosby can make it spectacular.

Crosby’s style will likely keep him productive well into his 30s. He doesn’t have to temper his game much, or think of anything new. Foes obviously have a read on Crosby, but it doesn’t matter. He just needs to stay fit.

He will. Crosby is likely doing push-ups right now.

Crosby’s style makes selecting linemates more challenging than one might think. Here’s what Crosby expects (requires) from his wingers:

•Defensive acumen;

•Quick and accurate puck movement through the neutral zone;

•Speed;

•Support down low.

Be ready for plenty of in-game guidance, too. Personal coaching from hockey’s best.

Jake Guentzel is an easy choice at left wing. A great match stylistically. That’s no surprise. He’s a coach’s kid.

But who’s going to play right wing on Crosby’s line?

The accurate answer: Many will. Two-man combinations with a rotating third are popular in the NHL, and coach Mike Sullivan is often a practitioner.

Daniel Sprong opened training camp on Crosby’s right. Sprong can finish. But he’s lacking much of what’s otherwise required. His biggest flaw: puck support. Sprong won’t last long with Crosby and certainly not indefinitely.

Dominik Simon saw duty at that spot in last year’s playoffs. Simon plays well in small areas, a big plus. But he mangled several scoring opportunities in last season’s second-round playoff loss to Washington.

Simon is nonetheless intriguing. The coaches and Crosby like him. Simon trained with Crosby in Nova Scotia during the summer.

A sampling of teammates spoke glowingly of Simon’s abilities after Friday’s practice. They see something I don’t.

Bryan Rust has the wheels for sporadic service, as in the past. But he lacks the finesse to approach any semblance of permanence.

Patric Hornqvist doesn’t have the neutral-zone touch and speed to suit Crosby, nor the patience for constant post-shift tutelage. After 10 years in the NHL, Hornqvist plays how he plays and does it well.

Phil Kessel never skates with Crosby five-on-five. There’s a reason for that.

Crosby isn’t difficult when it comes to linemates. He’s just demanding. A superstar with a very specific style who wants to skate with like-minded players.

But how many think the game at Crosby’s level?

That’s not an easy job description.

Whoever winds up on Crosby’s right starts dominoes falling.

If it’s Simon, for example, Sprong is a healthy scratch because playing him on the fourth line makes no sense, and he can’t go to the minors without clearing waivers.

If it’s Simon or Sprong, Hornqvist or Kessel is on the third line.

It might be Derick Brassard, but he helps most as third-line center.

It won’t be Jarome Iginla. Not then, not now.

Imagine if Pascal Dupuis were able to play. Crosby would love that.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3- 6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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