Pens' Sutter making impression on coaches, teammates
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has preached the downfalls of playing “pond hockey,” and his team was burned by its proclivity for it against the Flyers on Wednesday.
Maybe a higher dose of “Sutter hockey” is what the Penguins need.
Brandon Sutter, the Penguins' third-line center who has steadily improved during his first season wearing black and gold, has adopted the style that his father and uncles used a generation ago. There is nothing flashy about his game, and there are plenty of times when Bylsma would prefer more substance and less style.
“I really do think,” right wing Tyler Kennedy said, “we can learn something from how Sutter plays.”
Sutter's biggest moment with the Penguins was short lived but still made an impression.
After the Penguins failed to tie the Flyers despite having nearly two minutes of a five-on-three advantage, Sutter took the puck from behind the net and barged in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, banging in the game-tying tally late in the third period.
There was nothing fancy about the power move. It was pure Sutter.
“That's the type of goal you might expect from him,” Bylsma said. “A big goal, a big time in the game.”
Sutter was traded to the Penguins in a blockbuster deal that included center Jordan Staal, and like the man he replaced on the third line, Sutter has a knack for rising to the occasion.
He also has a knack for making hockey look simple.
“He plays a north-south game, and that's the right way to play,” Kennedy said. “It's why he's such a great player.”
Kennedy probably has a better feel for Sutter than anyone else on the Penguins' roster. Playing almost exclusively with Staal during the first five seasons of his career, Kennedy has been forced to adjust to a new center.
Despite struggling with his own game, Kennedy has found playing with Sutter easy.
“He's so much like Jordan,” Kennedy said. “They're both great defensively. And he's got that scoring touch, too. He can score goals when he wants.”
Sutter and Bylsma agree that it took the 24-year-old center a few games to adjust to his surroundings. Since then, Sutter hasn't missed a beat.
“We're almost 20 games into this,” Sutter said. “After the first six or seven games, I started to feel so much better.”
Through 17 games, Sutter has produced four goals (Staal has two in Carolina) and seven points. He is a plus-4 and has been a minus player in only one game. A winner of 51 percent of his faceoffs, Sutter has been a strong penalty killer and has become a locker room presence.
“You can tell he's getting more comfortable,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He's been quietly a really, really solid player for us.”
Because of Kennedy's struggles and Matt Cooke's necessitated move to the second line, the third line could have become unstable.
But Sutter has proven to be a settling factor.
“He's one of those guys who does all the little things so well,” Niskanen said. “He's always in the right position. He's just a good hockey player.”