Penguins notebook: Third line has right mix
Whether this current iteration of the Penguins third line has the right chemistry remains to be seen.
What Lee Stempniak, Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett do have are right-handed shots, a rarity in a league that features more left-handed shooters.
“It's a different thing,” Stempniak said after practice Friday at Consol Energy Center. “I've always played with two lefties.”
That group did several things right during Game 1, with Sutter netting the game-winning goal off a feed from Bennett. Bennett scored on the power play to record his first two-point game of the season. And the three players were a plus-2 with six shots.
Nothing wrong with a performance like that from the right-handed group.
“When you're going to win hockey games in the postseason, you need to get it from all over,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “There's going to be some different and unsuspecting heroes.”
Different is certainly something Sutter has gotten used to.
He has played with 19 different wingers this season, though this is the first time he's been flanked by Stempniak and Bennett.
Stempniak was acquired via trade with Calgary on March 5 and spent the bulk of his time on Sidney Crosby's wing.
Bennett returned from a 50-game absence (wrist) March 28 and made a cameo with Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
That changed in Game 1, however, as Bylsma decided to use the speedy Brian Gibbons there.
“I thought Beau with us worked pretty well,” Sutter said. “We've had a couple different wingers there, but I think so far it's gone pretty well.”
Having three right-handed shots presents some minor logistical issues, Stempniak said.
“If you're coming out of the left corner for the one-timer, you have to catch it and shoot it,” he said.
Bennett said he doesn't mind playing the left wing on a line full of righties — their sticks are in perfect position for Bennett. But said, “I'm just a little more closed off because my backhand is along the wall.”
The last time the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy comprised the best third line in the league.
If this year's group can get close to that production, it should bode well for the Columbus series and beyond.
“Sutter and Stempniak are really good players,” Bennett said. “I think for every team that has won it over the past couple of years, they've had a third line that can contribute. That's something that, if we can chip in a goal every night, that would be huge for our team.”
His team outhit 48-27 in Game 1, Bylsma must now worry about the return of R.J. Umberger.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Plum native skated on a line Friday in Columbus with Artem Anisimov and Blake Comeau.
Umberger, who hasn't played since April 6, has 18 goals this season and provides the Blue Jackets with plenty of grit.
“Their team is one of the leaders in terms of physical play and hits,” Bylsma said. “His numbers are up in that regard. I'm going to expect that from him.”
Sitting, waiting, watching
With an extra day off between Games 1 and 2, Bylsma had a date with his couch and television.
“The one reason why I liked (the extra day) was there are a lot of hockey games going on right now, so Thursday and (Friday) you're going to be able to watch a lot of hockey games,” he said. “Other than that, I like playing every other day.”
Friday's practice featured a special visitor, as former Penguin Kevin Stevens watched from the seats and then stopped by the Penguins locker room.
Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.
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