Penguins winger Kennedy enduring slump

| Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

Tyler Kennedy played the best hockey of his career following injuries to numerous stars last season.

The injuries are back, but Kennedy's production isn't.

And the right wing isn't happy about it.

"It's getting frustrating," Kennedy said following Monday's practice at Consol Energy Center. "I'm not scoring like I want to."

Kennedy was a refreshing presence for the Penguins last season following the absences of injured centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Receiving more playing time and duty on the top power play, Kennedy contributed a career-high 21 goals.

This season, Kennedy has missed a month with a concussion and failed to match last season's goal production. He has only three goals.

Kennedy insists his health is fine.

"No problems at all," he said. "I feel good."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma senses that Kennedy is about to break out of his funk. He threw eight shots on net in Ottawa last Friday and has been more of an offensive presence in recent games.

"In the last five games, he's played well," Bylsma said. "(He's playing) with energy, being effective with speed like he can be. That's more of a bigger focus with him than if pucks are going in."

Still, Kennedy is being paid $2 million per season largely to score goals.

"I'm just plugging away, and hopefully, pucks will go in soon," said Kennedy, who is averaging almost four shots per game, which is up from last season's total.

Lack of stability in the Penguins' lineup might explain some of Kennedy's problems. In the past, he has played almost exclusively on a line with center Jordan Staal and left wing Matt Cooke. The trio almost always clicks.

Because of recent injuries to Crosby and Staal, the Penguins' lines have been jumbled on a nightly basis. Kennedy has taken shifts with centers Staal, Joe Vitale and Pascal Dupuis in recent games. He occasionally sees time on the power play, though it hasn't been consistent.

Bylsma suggested that Kennedy could probably use more stable surroundings. The team's health, of course, isn't making that possible.

"He was essentially on our top line at the end of last year," Bylsma said. "(Now he's) trying to find where he's at, what line he's on, if he's on the power play. That can take away from being focused on how Tyler Kennedy can play."

Kennedy's all-around game has been steady. Normally a shoot-first player, he set up Dupuis' game-winning goal against the Islanders with a pretty pass 10 days ago and executed a slick pass to set up rookie Simon Despres' first NHL goal against Buffalo on Saturday.

"I'm still getting points," Kennedy said. "That definitely makes me feel better. I just have to play through this right now."

Bylsma believes Kennedy is playing well right now, despite the statistics, and that goals are imminent.

"I think if the frustration level is there," Bylsma said, "it might be because now he's playing the right way, playing in the right areas to get those opportunities. If he continues to be there, we'll see him score big goals and put pucks behind goaltenders."

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