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Bennett will return to lineup tonight against Pens

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

When you're off sitting on the sidelines, unable to pitch in, to help 'the boys' in times of crisis, the wait can be unbearable. 

But when the team's winning, it is - albeit a fraction - easier to stomach. 

"It's been a lot of fun," observed Sam Bennett, who's missed the past 13 games with an upper-body injury, of the Flames' recent 8-1-1 tear. "Over that stretch, our whole team has been playing well. … When you're winning, it's great. When you're not, it makes it a lot tougher to be out of the lineup and away from them. 

"You feel kind of helpless, because you want nothing more than to be part of the solution. That's how it felt early when the team was going through a bit of a rough patch. 

"But then they turned it around, and I get to come in and be a part of this. 

"It's been a roller-coaster few weeks, but what a time to come back."

Bennett, who last dressed in a 3-0 road loss to the Arizona Coyotes one month ago, will return to a Flames lineup bulging at the seams with depth at the forward position. 

Mark Jankowski will be the odd-man out this evening, as Bennett takes over on a fourth-line role with Tobias Rieder at centre, and the red-hot Michael Frolik on right wing. 

"They've been playing unbelievable," Bennett said. "They're easy guys to play with, you know what you're going to get, they're both fast, guys who play direct and make plays. I'm really looking forward to getting the opportunity with them tonight."


Video: "I've been dying to get back out here"


Frolik, in particular, had goals in three straight prior to Saturday's loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, and has really turned a corner with a variety of linemates.

Rieder, though, has been a constant, with the 26-year-old contributing three helpers in his five games. 

As a pair, they've driven the play offensively with a 54.35% shot share, a 57.28% split of the even-strength scoring chances, and have done so under heavy defensive responsibility.

The addition to the Bennett - a fast, physical and equally pugnacious winger - brings another new wrinkle to this feisty, fourth-line set. 

It's a luxury, of sorts, for interim head coach Geoff Ward as he juggles a roster with three spare forwards - one (Austin Czarnik) will soon be activated off LTIR, as well. 

Depth is good. 

So, too, is internal competition as it pushes each individual to be better and stand out in a crowded locker-room.

"We told him to play to his strengths," Ward said of Bennett. "Simple is better right now. Just come in, play simple, play hard, play in straight lines, be physical, chip in offensively when you can, and be responsible away from the puck.

"Internal competition is good. It makes guys push a little harder. It's a motivator, for sure. But at the end of the day, we all understand that we're on the same team and we want the best for our team that possibly can get. Everyone involved in that room is committed to that, accountable to that. We're on the same page together. 

"We'll put the best lineup we feel that we have to put on the ice in order to feel successful. We'll move ahead as a team, but the internal competition is certainly good. 

"It drives guys to be better."


Video: "We told him to play to his strengths"


In this particular, fourth-line formation, Rieder will take the majority of the faceoffs, despite having a limited view in that field over the course of his career. 

Bennett - who has a 50% success rate this year - will slide in if necessary. 

"I've already talked to Tobi about it," Bennett said. "If he's struggling or a certain guy has his number, I probably step in. Thing is, Tobi is a really smart guy and he's going to know how it's going or how it feels out there, so he'll let me know if it gets to that point."

Depth at forward is one thing. 

But the Flames are in a position now where they've got options in just about every configuration.

Elias Lindholm comes to mind - a top-flight right-winger, and a stud centreman anchoring the top unit. 

They literally have players on lines 1 through 4 that understand the roles, the responsibilities, and the nuances of each outpost. 

"It's huge," Bennett said. "There are a lot of guys that are able to play other positions, and not the positions they're necessarily used to, but you need that on teams. 

"Winning teams. 

"The depth of our team, and even on some lines, too, it's big.

"For me? I'm looking forward to being part of that and contributing in any way I can tonight."

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