Pens' rookie Kennedy brings speed to lineup
A cursory look at the stat sheet after the Penguins' 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal on Saturday wouldn't give much insight into how well rookie Tyler Kennedy performed in his first NHL game.
He didn't score a point, go to the penalty box or even get a shot on goal after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. What he did provide was a shot in the arm to a Penguins team that may have started down the road to stagnation.
"Tyler Kennedy brought us some speed, and that's what we're looking for," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "He brought us some intensity, and I thought he did a good job for his first game in the NHL. He brought us the energy we were looking for."
Kennedy, called up because Georges Laraque (groin) and Gary Roberts (illness) were unable to play, got into the game in the first minute and, by design, went after the first Montreal player he could find. Problem was, he didn't get an opportunity to really dish out a punishing check until after the Penguins fell into a 2-0 hole.
After the center ice faceoff, the puck went into the Montreal zone and Kennedy drilled defenseman Roman Hamrlik into the boards behind goaltender Casey Price. The hit brought thunderous applause from the sellout crowd at Mellon Arena, but it wasn't desire for adulation that turned the 21-year-old into an anti-Canadiens missile.
"Coach Todd Richards told me (in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) to try to get a good hit right off the bat to calm me down, and I think I did," Kennedy said. "I think I hit one of the defensemen. I'm not sure."
Kennedy spent most of the game on a line with Adam Hall and Mark Recchi, who had been playing with Sidney Crosby until Saturday. Recchi came into the game third on the team with seven points but had not scored a goal since the season opener at Carolina.
Playing with Kennedy, however, may be enough to jump-start the 500-goal scorer and help solidify the Penguins' constantly changes lines.
"I felt really good out there with them," Recchi said. "I thought we generated a lot of chances, played with a lot of energy which, if you're on a third line, you'd better play with energy so you can do good things. I thought we did a good job."
Kennedy played 11:38 and took the ice for 16 shifts, all at even strength. He also played for a few seconds with Crosby at the end of his first shift before being replaced by Crosby's usual linemates, Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone.
It was with Recchi and Hall, however, that Kennedy looked most comfortable. He showed the speed that made him the Penguins' fourth pick and the 99th player selected in the 2004 draft. He also showed flashes of the passing ability that helped him score 37 points in 40 games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season despite missing most of the second half because of a sports hernia that required offseason surgery.
"I thought we played pretty well together and I thought we knew where each other were," Kennedy said. "Me and Hallsy just kind of work, and Recchi's kind of a smart player who knows what to do and kind of leads us out there. I thought we were hitting out there and creating turnovers. We just have to keep it up."
There was one little mistake. Moments after he hit Hamrlik for the second time, the puck went into the Penguins' zone. Kennedy made a poor clearing attempt that went right to Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec.
Plekanec wasted his opportunity, and Penguins goaltender Dany Sabourin made the save, much to the rookie's relief.
"Ooh, I was just praying to God it didn't go in," Kennedy said. "Things happen like that, it went off a guy's skate and you have to play through those."
Still, a few more mistakes like that and he may be Wilkes-Barre-bound. But with his speed and tenacity, he may be able to find a niche in the Penguins' lineup.
"I'm just trying to earn a spot here," Kennedy said. "I'm just trying to stay here as long as I can."
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