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Penguins' Kennedy hopes to reverse scoring slump

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Tyler Kennedy during practice at Consol Energy Center Jan. 8, 2013.

Firing line

Tyler Kennedy is known for shooting at every opportunity, but no one did it more than his potentially new linemates. The NHL leaders in shots for 2011-12:

Player, team Goals Shots

Evgeni Malkin, Penguins 50 339

James Neal, Penguins 40 329

Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils 37 310

Rick Nash, Blue Jackets 30 306

Steven Stamkos, Lightning 60 303

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals 38 303

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Dejan Kovacevic
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
 

Tyler Kennedy is a man of few words and few passes. Put him on a sheet of ice with four open teammates, and chances are excellent he'll still seek out that trademark whirling wrister from the left circle.

All of which is fine, except when he's a man of few goals.

That, of course, is precisely the fate that befell him the last time the Penguins played: He had just 11 goals and 22 assists in 60 games, limited by a concussion and high ankle sprain. That was roughly half his career-high 21 goals of 2010-11.

“It was a tough year, for sure,” Kennedy said Friday after the team's informal skate at Southpointe. “Hopefully I can put it behind me.”

Small wonder. Nothing worked, not even gunning. He needed 195 shots to squeeze out those 11 goals, meaning it took him 17.7 tries before scoring.

For point of unfair comparison, Evgeni Malkin's 50 goals came on 339 shots, or once every 6.8 tries.

“All you can try to do is try to put the puck in the back of the net,” Kennedy said.

Maybe that will resume soon.

Dan Bylsma hasn't said it, but Kennedy is the default candidate to join Malkin and James Neal on the second line that, given its pedigree with a reigning MVP and 40-goal sniper, rates second only because Sidney Crosby is on the first.

Kennedy will have to beat out Eric Tangradi and Beau Bennett, but that comes in the context of the Penguins not having much room to experiment within the confines of a 48-game schedule.

“That would be amazing, being out there with those two great players,” he said. “But you know, I'm going to come in and compete just how I would if there wasn't a spot there. Wherever I play, I'm happy.”

Chris Kunitz skated with Malkin and Neal most of last season, bringing vision, creativity and instinct to the line, while Malkin and Neal provided the finish.

So how might that be a fit for Kennedy, who has made a living off the finish?

“I think I'd fit in pretty well,” he said. “It might take a little time, but I know I can keep up with them, and I feel like I can make plays, too. I'm a pretty confident player. I've just got to believe in myself and be myself.”

“You don't have to change anything,” Kunitz said. “Our top two centermen are elite guys. If you start changing how you play, they're not going to know where you're going. You just need to stick to your own basics. Our centers will always reward you for being in position.”

Even if Kennedy seals the spot, it's no guarantee he'll last even the opening game there. Bylsma's tentative plan is to substitute that winger as needed “based on whether we're up or not.” If the Penguins hold a late lead, a defensive ace would step in.

Don't expect Kennedy to complain either way.

“No matter how it turns out, I feel pretty good right now,” he said. “A good training camp, I think, and I'll be ready to rock.”

With quite the accompaniment.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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