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Penguins Insider: Time is right for Jokinen's return

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jussi Jokinen during practice Tuesday, May 21, at Scotiabank Place.

Penguins/NHL Videos

Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

OTTAWA — The Penguins acquired center Jussi Jokinen at the trade deadline largely because of his ability to play situational roles.

Jokinen appears likely to return to the lineup in Wednesday's Game 4, and his unique skill set will be welcomed.

The Penguins have won only 45 percent of their faceoffs against Ottawa. Jokinen is among the NHL's finest faceoff men, winning 54 percent of draws in his career. He won 65 percent of his faceoffs in the first four games of the opening round series against the Islanders but has been a healthy scratch for the past five games.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has mentioned multiple times in this series that his team has been particularly ineffective in the left circle, which happens to be where Jokinen's faceoff prowess is most detectable.

Jokinen is itching for the opportunity to play.

“It's not easy to watch in the press box,” he said. “I just want to play to my strengths and help my team win.”

Jokinen denied speculation that he has been dealing with an injury. He was one of the most productive Penguins down the stretch; he registered seven goals and 11 points in 10 regular-season games with the Penguins after being acquired from Carolina on April 3.

He figures to skate on the fourth line in Game 4 against Ottawa with wingers Craig Adams and Tyler Kennedy, though Brenden Morrow also has seen time on that line.

Jokinen's greatest value is that he can be used on any line in any situation. And should the Penguins find themselves protecting a late lead like in Game 3, Jokinen isn't likely to have any mental lapses.

“He's defensively responsible,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He's always in the right spot, under the puck. He's always making the right play.”

One knock on Jokinen is that he isn't a physical player. He was replaced in Game 5 by center Joe Vitale, whose physicality made a difference.

Vitale, injured before Game 3, also could be available tonight and might see action. Jokinen, though, is the safer bet to play.

Given his ability to master the little things — and, really, faceoffs are far from insignificant in the Stanley Cup playoffs — and the reality that he has been a point-per-game player with the Penguins, it seems only logical that Jokinen returns to the lineup tonight.

The 30-year-old veteran promises to be ready when his name is called.

“I've been working hard on and off the ice,” Jokinen said. “So whenever I get the chance, I'm ready to go.”

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