Penguins notebook: Jeffrey, Vitale wage battle for playing time

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 8:40 p.m.

One day after Dustin Jeffrey started the season as the fourth-line center, he was a healthy scratch in favor of Joe Vitale.

This is a trend that could continue.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma made it clear Sunday that he likes both players and could use them in a rotation, depending on the opposition and which is playing at a higher level.

“There's certainly competition there,” Bylsma said.

Vitale is in the classic fourth-line mold, a physical, straight-line player who draws penalties and is defensively responsible.

Jeffrey, meanwhile, adds an element of skill that isn't often seen on fourth lines. He scored seven goals in 25 games two seasons ago when centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out with injuries, which paved the way for Jeffrey to see more ice time.

A knee injury derailed Jeffrey's 2011-12 season, but he believes he is 100 percent healthy.

“Dustin is a guy who can do a lot of different things,” Bylsma said. “He can play up (on the top two lines), play the power play, penalty kill, play wing, adds some skills. In the American Hockey League, he was a shutdown center.”

The competition figures to rage on most of the season, unless an injury opens the door for both to play. Bylsma doesn't seem discouraged by Vitale's play, even though he did opt to make him a healthy scratch in Philadelphia.

• Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik leveled Rangers forward Chris Kreider late in the third period with a big hit, sending a woozy Kreider to the bench. Orpik was not penalized — nor should he have been, according to the Rangers. “Maybe we need to get whacked around a little more,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “That's a clean hit.” One of Orpik's former teammates agreed. “Brooks Orpik is a pretty clean player,” Rangers forward Arron Asham said.

• Penguins general manager Ray Shero confirmed that the penalty against center Brandon Sutter in the first period was the correct call. Sutter was penalized for touching the puck with his hand while taking a faceoff, resulting in a two-minute penalty.

— Josh Yohe

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