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Versatile Bennett providing shot in arm for Penguins

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett's second NHL season did not go as planned.

Bennett was expected to play second-line left wing alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal entering training camp. After Jussi Jokinen won the position, Bennett was expected to bring much-needed offensive production to Pittsburgh's bottom six throughout the regular season. After Bennett was sidelined through 61 games with multiple injuries, he was expected to bolster its struggling third line upon return.

The last expectation partially became reality.

The 22-year-old forward began the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Pittsburgh's first-line right wing, but will most likely move to third-line left wing for Game 2 of its Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday (7 p.m., ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT) at Consol Energy Center.

Bennett said he doesn't think transitioning between lines will be an issue.

"I think a lot of the guys on the team are easy to play with," Bennett said. "[Third-line center Brandon] Sutter's probably the easiest to play with on the team, to be honest. He's a really solid two-way guy, and the transition between all three lines, it's not bad. Everyone's so talented and it makes it easy on myself."

Sutter didn't take credit for making Bennett's transition seamless. Instead, he said it is due to Bennett's ability to remain consistent with his play.

"I think it's hard for a player to try to change too much. I think he just worries about playing his game," Sutter said. "I thought last game he played great, and that's great for him and great for our line too when he's playing that way. I just think if you start changing your game depending on what line you're on, I think you just lose your touch a little bit.

"Hopefully, he just plays the same way and keeps doing the same things."

Bennett returned from a wrist/hand injury on March 28 as the second-line left wing, the position he was expected to play entering the regular season, with Malkin out of the lineup due to a foot injury. When Malkin returned, Bennett moved to the third line but soon found himself playing next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz at right wing, his natural position.

He worked on the third line with Lee Stempniak and Sutter during practice Thursday, forming a line with three right-handed shots. Stempniak said adjusting to such a line can be difficult.

"The only weird thing is, there's three righties on a line. That's pretty rare," Stempniak said. "Beau's a smart player and he skates well. So I think it's been a great fit for the three of us. A lot of it is, when we get our chances, try to capitalize on our chances.

"[Three right-handed shots] doesn't give you a one-time on one side of the ice. So, when you're coming from behind the net or out of the corner, you don't have that lefty coming out of the left corner for the one-timer, so you have to catch it and shoot it."

Bennett scored two goals and three points through his first four games back before going on a four-game stretch without a point. But he heated up recently by scoring three points over his past two games, including one goal and one assist in Pittsburgh's 4-3 Game 1 win on Wednesday.

He is one-third of a rotation including forwards Brian Gibbons and Tanner Glass that filters through three of Pittsburgh's lines.

Bennett splits time between the first and third lines, and Gibbons will most likely start on the first line but move to the third and fourth under certain circumstances. Glass will probably begin Game 2 as the fourth-line left wing, but move to the third to form more of a checking line.

"I think when you're going to win hockey games in the postseason, you're going to get it, you need to get it, from all over," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There are going to be different, unsuspecting maybe, heroes and performances in the game that you have to get.

"We got it from Beau Bennett scoring a huge power-play goal for us to get us back to 3-2 [in Game 1] right after [Columbus] scored that shorthanded goal."

After playing in five fewer games than he did as a rookie during the shortened 2012-13 season, Bennett said he has been frustrated, but realizes he has the opportunity to make up for it in the postseason.

"It's frustrating being out with any injury, but you just have to roll with it," Bennett said. "You try to get better and keep improving. Just know that it's not going to happen all the time. You're not going to have these injuries all the time, so when they do happen, just take care of your body and hopefully put it in your past."

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