A fourth line is expected to bring energy and toughness to an NHL lineup, and the Penguins’ trio of Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Craig Adams is no exception.
However, Pittsburgh’s bottom-three forwards have been providing much more than just energy to start this season, chipping in four goals through the first five games while still providing all of the intangibles that are expected of them.
The production both on the scoresheet and off continued for that line on the Penguins’ two-game road trip to Florida over the weekend – starting with Adams, 36, tallying for the third time this season with a cracked lower lip sustained from a high stick earlier in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Panthers. Glass and Vitale earned the assists on the goal.
“They have been probably the most effective line and probably the biggest surprise line together as a group through the first five games,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “In Florida, when our game wasn’t going particularly well, they were the line that got us going and got back in that game with a goal by Craig Adams on the shift with Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale. They have done some good things but they actually have played two-to-three more minutes a game because of how they are playing and how they have been used.”
It didn’t take long for Adams and the fourth line to have an effect the following night in Tampa Bay, as No. 27 dropped the gloves with former Penguins forward Ryan Malone off the opening faceoff just four seconds into the contest.
The right hand of Malone separated the lower lip of Adams for the second night in a row. But the 13-year veteran shook it off, as the scrap was all about setting the tone for a big game.
“It is just something that happened,” Adams said. “I think it was a big game for both teams and both teams wanted to make a statement in different ways.”
It isn’t unusual to see Adams play through bumps and bruises, as he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the good of the team. He blocks shots, is physical and a willing combatant when necessary. Vitale talked on Monday after practice about the intangibles Adams brings to not just the fourth line, but also the entire team.
“Craig is obviously a huge part of this team, and the success they have had here,” Vitale said. “The reasons why they brought him back is for the exact reasons you are seeing. The grittiness, the edge he brings to the game. Obviously, he is contributing some goals this year, which has been helping the guys. His penalty-killing ability is some of the best in the league.”
“With all of that said, his leadership ability is probably one of the biggest things, with communication, not only on my line, but also throughout the whole team. I mean, he is just the full package.”
Bylsma said if the group continues to play with the same level of commitment to getting to the net-front and wreaking havoc in the blue paint, ‘they will be a factor.’
“I think the more important part that may be overlooked is just what they have been able to do in terms of playing the offensive zone and holding on to the puck in the offensive zone, just be factors down there,” Bylsma said. “They have been a factor there physically and been a factor holding on to the puck in the offensive zone and affecting the other team.”
Glass has already surpassed his point production from last season, tallying three points (1G-2A) through just five games. He said seeing those numbers on the stat sheet is great, but the trio is continuing to do the same things it has always done.
“It is nice,” Glass said. “You have a year like I did last year, it is tough to say you are playing well when you see zeroes and one’s. We are just trying to do the same things we did last year. We are communicating well and getting in on the forecheck, so it has been good so far.”
All three members of the line said the key moving forward will be playing an effective game on both ends of the ice consistently, and hopefully the goals will keep coming.
“The thing we have kind of talked about as a group has been starting in the defensive zone and being really responsible,” Vitale said. “That has been our focus for the year. And it’s funny, when you take responsibility in the d-zone and take pride in that, when you do those things the offense kind of comes naturally. So, it’s been great helping to contribute to these wins.”