Penguins notebook: Bennett improves skill level
Forward Beau Bennett wasn't just strengthening his broken wrist and maintaining his physical condition during the past four months.
He was working on his skill level, too.
Bennett, who has worked extensively with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar since breaking his wrist Nov. 22 against the New York Islanders, was in strong form in his NHL return in Columbus on Friday.
He also was slicker with the puck than in previous games.
The Penguins made Bennett their top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft because of his top-end skill, and it was on display against the Blue Jackets.
“I've been skating on my own and doing a lot of skill stuff with Coach Kadar,” Bennett said. “It has grown my game.”
Kadar made sure Bennett remained in top shape but also incorporated drills pertaining to the finer parts of hockey skill to keep Bennett in top form.
General manager Ray Shero offered a “glowing” review of Bennett's play during his rehab stint in Wilkes-Barre, coach Dan Bylsma said.
After the game in Columbus, Bylsma said it might have been the finest game Bennett has played in a Penguins uniform.
Bennett played a more physical brand of hockey than usual, but his passing and ability to weave around defenders was most noticeable.
“Man was he good,” center Brandon Sutter said. “He was ready to go. Very impressive.”
The Penguins have won six straight games against the Blue Jackets and swept the season series 5-0. So calling the teams rivals is a stretch.
However, there is a possibility they could meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If that happened, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to think it would be fun.
“The atmosphere in (Nationwide Arena) is awesome,” he said. “Half of the fans are cheering for them and half for us. It's great.”
Saad's Pittsburgh debut
Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad will play against the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the first time Sunday night. Consol Energy Center is the only NHL arena in which Saad hasn't played.
His family will watch Sunday's game in a private box.
Saad recently returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury. Despite the games missed, Saad has recorded 19 goals and 44 points in 72 games.
The Blackhawks won't receive sympathy from the Penguins regarding injuries.
After all, the Penguins are on track to become one of the most injured teams in NHL history and are approaching 500 man-games lost due to injury.
Still, an important member of the Blackhawks is out of the lineup.
Right wing Patrick Kane is out, likely until the playoffs begin, because of a lower-body injury. He had produced 69 points in 69 regular-season games.
Maatta likely back
Defenseman Olli Maatta, a healthy scratch against the Blue Jackets on Friday, is expected back in the lineup Sunday.
Bylsma emphasized after Friday's game that Maatta was a scratch because the coaching staff wanted him to get rest and that he was not being punished for poor play.