Bennett, Martin score in Penguins' win
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Sidney Crosby might have found his right wing Thursday.
Beau Bennett, in his fourth game after missing four months with a broken wrist, scored a goal and consistently created offense with linemates Crosby and Chris Kunitz in a 4-2 victory.
Defenseman Paul Martin, returning from a broken hand, scored the game-winner in the third period.
The Penguins clinched the Metropolitan Division on Thursday but are far more interested in finding the proper formula for playoff success.
Is Bennett playing on the top line part of that formula?
“Maybe,” Crosby said. “(Our line) was good. I thought we created some really good chances, had some real good opportunities. We weren't able to get some shots away on a few of those. But that takes time. If we end up playing together, we'll try to create more things.”
The Penguins don't have much time to decipher their configurations entering the playoffs, but Bennett is part of their plan.
He has been a strong presence since returning from the broken wrist, scoring twice and using his playmaking skills to create a significant amount of offense.
“Beau's just so skilled,” forward Jussi Jokinen said. “He's really good right now.”
Bennett struggled early in the game, forcing a couple of passes to Crosby that weren't available. After Bennett's second shift, coach Dan Bylsma had a chat with him on the bench.
“Once that happened,” Bennett said, “I settled down and felt good the rest of the game.”
Bennett gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period at the tail end of a power play, when he buried a one-timer off a pass from Crosby.
Crosby, Kunitz and Bennett found themselves with numerous opportunities on the rush. The goals didn't come, but they were so close that Bennett and Crosby sound interested in working together again.
“We had a lot more chances than what we finished,” Bennett said. “It was just a matter of knowing where I've got to be. Sid and Kuni have such great chemistry, so it's really up to me to be where they aren't. That'll be a work in progress.”
Crosby and Bennett were placed on the same line in November for two games before Bennett's injury.
“Beau has been playing really well,” Crosby said. “He continued to do what he needs to do tonight.”
The game had the feel of a possible playoff dress rehearsal for the Penguins.
Should Bennett remain on the top line, right wing Lee Stempniak would play on the third line with center Brandon Sutter as he did against Winnipeg.
The Penguins acquired Stempniak in March knowing he could help the first or third lines, and he set up Craig Adams' goal.
The return of Martin didn't hurt the Penguins, either. He played in his regular spot with defenseman Brooks Orpik, who said Martin “didn't miss a beat” in his return. Martin's game-winner came off a feed from James Neal on the power play.
“I wanted that one,” Martin said. “I did. I've missed time twice this year. That's enough.”
The Penguins were pleased with their defensive work, as they held Winnipeg to three shots in the third period. Winnipeg's 15 shots were the second fewest the Penguins have allowed all season.
Right wing Brian Gibbons also scored, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 37th win.
Bennett might have earned more time on the top unit. Bylsma said Bennett showed his “hockey sense” while on Crosby's line.
“It's not for me to say if he should be on that line,” Orpik said. “But he is talented. He's got a really high ceiling.”