-- They were a matchup nightmare for many coaches in the NHL and a chief reason their team's stars could take advantage of whatever remaining personnel the opposition would throw at them.
They were also a big reason why there reasonably could've been three consecutive Stanley Cup championship parades through downtown Pittsburgh, instead of just the most recent one in 2009 -- a good problem to have.
But as the 2010-11 season looms closer with the start of training camps across the League, the Penguins' Jordan Staal
-Matt Cooke-Tyler Kennedy trio is nowhere to be found.
As players took the ice for the first time in the new Consol Energy Center, they did so without the 6-foot-4 presence of Staal -- a Selke Trophy candidate a season ago -- who will miss five to six weeks with a foot infection.
Meanwhile, Cooke has been skating alongside rival-turned-teammate Arron Asham
and center Mark Letestu
, while Kennedy has been flanking several different centers.
The combinations have more so been a matter of preparing for a new offensive attack than a matter of playing with the cards you've been dealt while dealing with an injury.
In fact, even if Staal had been available, coach Dan Bylsma
-- entering his second training camp with Penguins -- would've elected to play him on a line with Evgeni Malkin
, who would switch to right wing.
The recipe for a successful third line in Pittsburgh will feature a handful of new ingredients that Bylsma and his coaching staff plan to cook up prior to the season opener on Oct. 7.
For the former third liners, though, it's status quo.
"I just have to do what I do to be successful," Cooke said, before adding that his game doesn't change regardless of linemates.
Kennedy shared a similar sentiment.
"I'm not too concerned," he said. "I just have to worry about trying to improve myself, but I feel committed and confident and am ready to rock and roll."
Part of why Cooke and Kennedy don't seem bothered is due to the number of different options for a new third line, as Letestu, Mike Comrie
, Maxime Talbot
, Mike Rupp
and Craig Adams
can step in at center, while Cooke, Kennedy, Asham or Pascal Dupuis
could shoulder the responsibilities at wing.
A plethora of options, though, doesn't diminish the importance of a formidable third line.
"I think it's key," Cooke said. "That's the strength of our organization. We've had a third line -- and fourth line, for that matter -- that on any given night can win a hockey game."
The goal will be to come up with one of those again
But even while there are enough capable bodies to make up a third unit, Cooke offered a warning.
"Offense and success on a third line doesn't come from one player," he said.
It will take a collective effort -- hopefully, for the Penguins' sake, an effort that's similar to the one they got from Staal, Cooke and Kennedy on the ice the past three years.