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Kennedy, Vitale likely to make debuts for Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- If, as many believe, speed is the area in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are at a distinct disadvantage against the New York Islanders, Dan Bylsma appears to have decided to do something about it.

The Penguins coach had Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale taking part in line rushes, and Simon Despres was paired with Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang for the morning skate Thursday in advance of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series that is tied two games apiece.

Keeping with his policy, Bylsma did not discuss his lineup with the media. But Kennedy and Vitale were talking as if they were on the verge of making their 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs debuts.

"For sure, excited to get back out there, excited to get with the guys," Vitale said. "It's been tough watching in the press box, as anyone will tell you.

"I'm not going to change anything. My game is pretty simple: a lot of speed, lot of energy, some tenacity, be responsible in the defensive zone, and kind of be a lift for the guys."

Vitale appeared in 33 games during the regular season, a regular on a fourth line alongside Craig Adams and Tanner Glass. Early in the season, when all the Penguins' forwards were healthy, Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey were whom Bylsma was choosing between as the 12th forward when filling out his lineup.

But with Pittsburgh finally at full health again and after the additions of Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla and Jussi Jokinen at the NHL Trade Deadline, the resulting glut of forwards has left Vitale and Jeffrey -- as well as rookie Beau Bennett -- as the odd men out. Despres, too, has been a seventh or eighth defensemen during his first full NHL season.

But with the Penguins struggling to keep up with the fleet-of-foot Islanders, Bylsma has apparently elected to insert strong skaters Vitale, Kennedy and Despres back into the lineup.

"To get speed, certainly you look at how a person skates to add speed to a lineup, but a lot of speed is your execution with the puck," Bylsma said. "It goes much faster than anybody can skate, so we have to inject speed into our lineup by doing a better job of execution with the puck, and conversely you can by not allowing teams to execute, you can slow them down. And that's something we are focusing on doing as well as how we execute, to be able to add that speed to our lineup and counteract theirs."

Kennedy was a healthy scratch once this regular season, but he has not appeared in a playoff game. He has one of the best pure shots on the team, and otherwise his game -- like that of Vitale's -- is a good fit for the Islanders. They are smaller players who can skate.

Kennedy has been a fixture on the Penguins' third line over the past five seasons, the right wing with Matt Cooke on the left side. Jordan Staal centered the unit until he was traded this summer for a package that included his third-line center replacement, Brandon Sutter.

With Morrow now part of the mix, Kennedy is bumped down to the fourth line.

"We've got to get pucks deeper and make sure we're on the forecheck," Kennedy said. "I think speed and puck placement (are crucial) tonight.

"Our team builds off offensive shifts, and all four lines can do it on this team."

Kennedy hasn't played since the regular season finale 12 days ago, and Vitale hasn't been in the lineup since April 20. But Bylsma said that, by the coaching staff's evaluation criteria, five of the six best games Vitale played this season came during a game in which he was reinserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch previously.

Despres, 21, made a six-minute cameo in Game 3, posting a minus-2 rating. He appeared in three Stanley Cup Playoff games last season in addition to the 33 games he played during this regular season. A first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Despres has played 55 career NHL games over the past two seasons.

"Simon has been in different situations for us, played a lot of minutes, played against different guys," Bylsma said. "He didn't start well (in Game 3) and that kind of kept going there for him in the game he played. He's a very capable guy. We've talked to him about the game -- last season he did play and he did play well in the playoffs. When he gets a chance to go back in there, that's what he's going to be expected to do."

Despres would replace Mark Eaton in the lineup. Eaton was a minus-2 in each of the past two games, which were played on the days before and after his 36th birthday.

Jokinen and Glass appear to each be in line to be a healthy scratch for the first time this season with the Penguins. Glass, who been limited to 7:47 of average ice time per game, has one goal and an even plus/minus rating. Jokinen has two assists and is a plus-1.

Here is the projected lineup for Game 5:

Chris KunitzSidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis

James Neal - Evgeni MalkinJarome Iginla

Brenden Morrow - Brandon SutterMatt Cooke

Joe VitaleCraig Adams - Tyler Kennedy

Kris LetangSimon Despres

Paul MartinBrooks Orpik

Douglas MurrayMatt Niskanen

Tomas Vokoun

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Beau Bennett, Robert Bortuzzo, Mark Eaton, Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, Eric Hartzell, Dustin Jeffrey, Jussi Jokinen

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