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Penguins

Penguins looking for production from second, third lines

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, 5:33 a.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Phil Kessel (81) falls on Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz (41) as he is checked by Flyers' Ivan Provorov (9) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Stolarz was shaken up on the play but remained in the game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Phil Kessel (81) falls on Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz (41) as he is checked by Flyers' Ivan Provorov (9) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Stolarz was shaken up on the play but remained in the game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

For most of the first two months of the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been hampered by a lack of production from their bottom six forwards.

Lately, that weakness has shifted to the middle six.

After the first line and fourth line produced goals during a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, the scoring droughts of some of the players on the second and third lines began to come into focus.

Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored an even-strength goal in 15 games. Phil Kessel has a minus-5 rating in his past three games. Derick Brassard has no points in his past six games.

“We’ve got to find a way to find some more production through the middle of the lineup,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Part of that search for production could include another shuffling of line combinations. On Saturday, Malkin centered Tanner Pearson and Patric Hornqvist and Brassard centered Kessel and Zach Aston-Reese.

“We’ve got good players there. We’ve got good players,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make sure we find the combinations that give us more consistent success.”

The Brassard-Kessel combination seems like an especially obvious target to be broken up moving forward.

“Quite honestly, they haven’t got a lot since they’ve been together,” Sullivan said. “That’s something that the coaching staff has to look at. There’s always a fine line. We want to try to give them some time to give them an opportunity to jell, but we’ll discuss what our combinations are and see if we can come up with something that gives us more consistent success.”

More than new linemates, what the middle six forwards need, Sullivan said, is a commitment to playing cooperatively.

“In order to keep the puck in the offensive zone, you’ve got to stay close,” Sullivan said. “You’ve got to support one another. You’ve got to be willing to stop on pucks. You’ve got to hang onto pucks when you have them. You’ve got to compete. You’ve got to compete shift in and shift out.

“I just think that’s the evolution of the game and how the game is being played in the offensive zone. As a group, as a whole, we’ve got to do a better job supporting one another, staying close and making sure we battle for one another so we can keep the puck in the offensive zone a little more often than we have.”

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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