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Penguins' Kennedy hopes to reverse scoring slump

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
The Penguins' Tyler Kennedy during practice at Consol Energy Center Jan. 8, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

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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