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Penguins hoping substance matches style in quest for Cup

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 12:36 p.m.

The Penguins' forwards can dazzle the opposition on most nights, earning style points like perhaps no team during this generation.

But does enough substance exist from this group to propel the Penguins to another Stanley Cup?

“I sure hope so,” left wing Tanner Glass said. “And I think so.”

The Penguins entered the 2012 and '13 postseasons as an offensive juggernaut seemingly capable of winning Stanley Cup titles the way Wayne Gretzky's Oilers and Mario Lemieux's Penguins did, by outscoring teams. This era of NHL hockey, though, requires more than unmatched skill. And the Penguins know it.

All of the Penguins' talent — and they scored a whopping 26 goals in six games against the Flyers — wasn't enough to win that series.

One year later, the Boston Bruins shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in a remarkable display, holding both players pointless for the series. When the stars didn't perform, it was clear the Penguins were done, as Boston's role players badly outplayed the Penguins' third and fourth liners.

“We learned some lessons from that series,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said.

Entering the 2013-14 campaign, scoring goals doesn't appear a significant problem for these Penguins. They've led the NHL in scoring the past two regular seasons and are a good bet to make it a trifecta.

Crosby is universally regarded as the game's finest player and he will be flanked by wingers Chris Kunitz and Dupuis, both of whom use a simple style that complements the star center seamlessly.

“You could see it after the first day of practice,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Those guys were flying, in midseason form.”

The Penguins' second line likely would be the top line of any other NHL team.

Malkin is healthy after dealing with nagging injuries last season, and right wing James Neal enjoyed a terrific training camp and is coming off two seasons that saw him among the NHL leaders in goals. The duo will be joined either by Jussi Jokinen, who has displayed a penchant for playing well with skilled players, or talented youngster Beau Bennett, whose slick passing has impressed Malkin and Neal.

But what about the third and fourth lines?

Center Brandon Sutter, coming off an adequate if unspectacular season, is a lock to man the third line. Veterans Craig Adams and Joe Vitale figure to see most of their time on the fourth line. Otherwise, the bottom two lines remain a mystery.

Either Bennett or Jokinen will play on the third line when not on Malkin's unit. The likes of Matt D'Agostini, Chuck Kobasew, Glass and Dustin Jeffrey will battle for the other positions.

“I think we have a lot of good players for those lines, guys who can make it work,” assistant coach Tony Granato said.

“But we're still in the process of seeing who the best fits are.”

On paper, the Penguins are exquisitely skilled and not particularly gritty. General manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma have long maintained that they prefer the Penguins be “difficult to play against,” which means they prefer to employ physical, gritty players.

Time will tell if this lineup is equipped for playoff success. For all of the duo's dominance in the 2009 postseason, Crosby and Malkin were hardly unstoppable against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final. It took a whole team – and a versatile group of forwards – to win hockey's Holy Grail.

“We've all worked hard to be better this season,” Vitale said. “We're hungry to be better than last year.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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