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Penguins notebook: Special teams keep hot streaks alive

| Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, 6:18 p.m.

Seconds after the Penguins scored their 11th power-play goal in their last 10 games, coach Mike Sullivan offered his players a round of applause.

Special teams play, an area of struggle that contributed to Mike Johnston's firing in mid-December, continues to shape into a cause for celebration under Sullivan. The power play's seven-game, 0-for-19 slump that spanned the end of Johnston's tenure and the start of Sullivan's has given way to an 11-for-32 stretch in the last 10 games. And the penalty kill, which fared well under Johnston, looks even better under its new coach after killing opponents' last 25 man-advantage opportunities.

Sullivan's shut-down specialists will see if they can sustain their penalty-kill streak Tuesday against Carolina, the team with the most recent power-play goal against the Penguins.

“Those guys, I think they've really embraced and took pride in that role and how important it is to helping us win,” Sullivan said.

Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin again served as crucial cogs in the power-play effort Saturday. Malkin, responsible for nine power-play points since Dec. 19, zipped a puck from one corner to the other to earn a secondary assist. Hornqvist, whose third power-play goal since Dec. 19 tied Malkin for the most during the span, buried a quick pass from Phil Kessel, who earned his fourth point (one goal, three assists) in five games.

“They catch me a little bit off guard,” Hornqvist said of the feed from Kessel. “But I could get it on my backhand and then tap it in, so great play by Phil.”

Bennett update

Winger Beau Bennett, out since suffering an upper-body injury during a home game against Washington on Dec. 14, has made progress in his recovery, but a timeline for his return remains variable, Sullivan said.

The diagnosis of Bennett's injury initially called for him to miss 4 to 6 weeks.

“From my understanding, he's on time with that process,” Sullivan said. “I don't think he's far off, but he's not to the point yet where he's a day-to-day decision.

“I've never been a big believer in time frames, because I think you set yourself up for disappointment, because everybody reacts differently to injuries.”

Clendening returns

The Penguins on Sunday recalled defenseman Adam Clendening from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where the 23-year-old appeared in six games.

Clendening, sent down on a conditioning assignment, finished as a plus-4 with three assists during his stint with the Baby Pens.

Last in the Penguins' lineup Dec. 19 against Carolina, Clendening has appeared in nine games with the NHL club. He had one assist, 10 penalty minutes, 11 shots on goal and 21 shot attempts in 118 minutes of ice time.

Boost for Bonino?

Flanked by Baby Pens call-ups Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust for the first time in his career, center Nick Bonino put together one of his best performances of the season Saturday in a 3-1 win in Montreal.

He tied a season high with four shots on goal and earned the assist on the game-winning goal.

The Bonino-Kuhnhackl-Rust line also held the Canadiens to a far lower number of five-on-five shot attempts than the Penguins' other lines.

“They came up, and they played hard,” Bonino said of his linemates. “I think that was our biggest thing, make sure we were responsible, and I think we did that.”

With his linemates frequently changing during December, Bonino had just four assists in the month. For a center who averaged at least one assist per 60 minutes each of the past four seasons, the lack of goals to come from his passes puzzled.

His assists per 60 minutes rate sat at 0.6 entering Saturday's game.

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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