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Kovacevic: Beau knows playoff pedigree

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 11:43 p.m.
Role players such as Beau Bennett (above) are one reason why the Penguins have flourished this postseason.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Role players such as Beau Bennett (above) are one reason why the Penguins have flourished this postseason.

Brief and to the Point...

Dan Bylsma is the envy of exactly 29 NHL coaches in that he'll be burdened over the next few days to find room in the forward lines for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

Expect a leaguewide outpouring of sympathy, right?

Well, doesn't mean it's all a cinch:

1. Bylsma's got to almost anticipate chemistry in lieu of actually seeing most of these guys skate together, given the Penguins' many trades and injuries.

2. Great players usually come with great needs, and most are justified.

3. What about Beau Bennett?

Don't overlook that last one.

Bennett absolutely should be part of the playoff lineup. He's been just terrific — finishing, playmaking, passing, even his checking — and he's gotten it done regardless of role or linemates. He shouldn't be dismissed just because he's a rookie or even because the ridiculous depth right now legitimately drops him to the fourth line.

Let's go through the lines: I'd have Sidney Crosby between Jarome Iginla and Pascal Dupuis, then Evgeni Malkin reunited with Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Better to accelerate the chemistry. Third line would have Brandon Sutter with Brenden Morrow and Matt Cooke.

Fourth line?

I'll go with Jussi Jokinen between Bennett and Craig Adams. That omits, obviously, Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Dustin Jeffrey and, yes, Tyler Kennedy.

The latter won't happen. I know that. You know that. Bylsma has stuck by Kennedy as if they were kin. And maybe you can understand that in the regular season.

But the fourth line in the playoffs isn't about energy. If a team isn't getting energy from everyone in those games, they're golfing sooner than later. Rather, it's about capable production and, given the physical play, it's about making sure you've got reinforcements at hand. With Bennett and Jokinen on the bench, Bylsma has two terrific options should anyone go down. Even his stars.

I asked Bylsma if Bennett's showing enough to stick.

“What I think Beau's shown is that, when he steps into different areas of the game or a fourth-line role like he's been doing, he's still contributing, still making plays,” Bylsma said. “So whether he's in the lineup for the first game of the playoffs or gets inserted into a certain situation, he's shown he can fit.”

Sure has.

• Friday Q: Pittsburgh has eight stadiums/arenas with 4,000-plus capacity inside city limits. Name the only two built entirely with private financing.

Answer at end.

• You only think you fully grasp Pedro Alvarez's early struggles.

Forget the Half-Mendoza average or striking out in half his at-bats. According to his hit chart, before his first home run of the season Thursday night, he'd sent exactly two balls farther than 250 feet in the air. One was a 325-foot flyout to center, the other a 300-footer muffed by the right fielder in Arizona.

He'll come around. Always does. But it's astonishing to watch, nonetheless.

• Has Mark Melancon's arm fallen off yet?

• The Steelers dodged another potential poaching in retaining nose tackle Steve McLendon — by far their most underappreciated player by Mike Tomlin and staff — with a three-year deal Thursday.

Never mind that it came only after risking losing him on another low-ball tender, and only after the Packers invited McLendon for a visit, and only after someone realized that maybe a 36-year-old Casey Hampton or Alameda “Greased Lightning” Ta'amu won't cut it at nose tackle.

All that matters now is that Tomlin stops benching McLendon after every sack.

• Has James Harrison fired his agent yet?

• The Penguins' position atop the East is solid, but the No. 8 seed is still up in the air between the Islanders, Rangers and Jets. Of that trio, the latter presents by far the most attractive matchup and not just because the Penguins have torched the Jets for 20 goals in their past three visits here. The Penguins are flat-out in their heads.

“We do things in this building we don't do anywhere else,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said upon his team's visit last month. “I have no idea why.”

In contrast, I'd want nothing to do with the Islanders' mad speed up front or Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers' net.

• Has anyone seen the new “CSI: Ottawa” yet?

• Just so I've got this straight: Duquesne AD Greg Amodio in 2010 drops baseball, swimming, golf and wrestling, wiping out 70 of 475 varsity athletes and infuriating the university community while vowing that it was all done to better the basketball programs.

How's that working out?

The men won one Atlantic 10 game this past season, and the women just lost the region's finest coach, Suzie McConnell-Serio, to Pitt.

• Friday answer: The Riverhounds' new Highmark Stadium cost $10.2 million and joined A.J. Palumbo Center — $11 million when built in 1988, plus $4 million in recent renovations — as the city's only major venues built without tax money.

The six that used public funding: Heinz Field, Consol Energy Center, PNC Park, Petersen Event Center, Fitzgerald Field House, Cupples Stadium.

So minor league soccer and Duquesne basketball are our only self-sustaining sports, right?

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