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Penguins' Derick Brassard, Phil Kessel get another chance to click

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, 2:15 p.m.
The Penguins’ Derick Brassard celebrates his goal against the Capitals as Brooks Orpik skates by in the second period Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Derick Brassard celebrates his goal against the Capitals as Brooks Orpik skates by in the second period Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

After a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, Mike Sullivan said he was struggling with a common coach’s conundrum.

Should he break up the third-line combination of Zach Aston-Reese, Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel because it didn’t produce much offense in a two-game stretch or should he give the trio time to build chemistry?

For now, it seems Sullivan has decided to let the combination stay together for at least a little while longer. They practiced together Monday and are expected to at least start Tuesday night’s game against Colorado as a unit.

“When’s the right time to split up a line or when’s the right time to allow guys to stay together and work through things?” Sullivan said. “That’s the coach’s instinct, just based on what we see.”

The uncertainties of professional hockey make it impossible to suggest with any confidence that this is the last time Brassard and Kessel will get a chance to mesh together on a line, but it’s certainly possible.

Sullivan won’t keep banging his head into the same wall forever. Neither will general manager Jim Rutherford, who has consistently contemplated roster changes for most of the first two months of the season as the Penguins have been struggling their way to a 10-10-5 record.

“I’m pretty sure our GM doesn’t want to be managing a .500 team,” Brassard said. “We know we can be a lot better. We’re playing good games. We’re making mistakes I think this team in the past wasn’t making. I’m just trying to focus personally on my game. I can’t focus on what he’s going to do or if he’s going to try to help the team. I know our team is capable of beating any team. We just have to do it every night.”

Since Brassard joined the Penguins in trade deadline deal last season, he and Kessel have played together at even strength for about 181 minutes. During that time, the Penguins have scored nine goals and allowed nine goals.

That’s not an abject disaster, but it’s far from the game-changing third line Rutherford surely envisioned when he made the trade.

Brassard hasn’t given up on the idea of finding success alongside Kessel.

“Yeah, there’s chemistry. We just have to make plays,” Brassard said. “It’s hard to score in this league five-on-five. You might have two chances a game or three. You just have to capitalize on it.”

Brassard also knows that if success doesn’t come quickly, change could be imminent.

“I think that’s why it’s really hard in a season,” Brassard said. “Yeah, you can find chemistry, but there’s injuries. There’s four lines that have to roll. Maybe there’s one line that, for some period of time in the season, is not going to go well. You know he’s going to take a winger from a line that is working and put him on another line to try to get those guys going.

“That’s why I’m not really worrying right now. Whoever I’m playing with, I’m going to try to do my best. We know each other in the room. We know everyone’s style. You just try to adjust to that.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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