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Looking for spark, Pens split HBK

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens' famous HBK Line was arguably the team's best trio during the 2016 Stanley Cup championship run. They scored big goals, had their own championship belt and even a sandwich named after them.

But now it's a new season. And time for a change. 

The HBK Line - consisting of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel - did not produce an even-strength goal in the opening six games and two periods of the season. So the coaching staff needed to switch things up.

Halfway through the second period of the Pens' 3-2 third-period comeback victory against Florida on Tuesday, Kessel was moved onto a wing with centerman Evgeni Malkin, while Bryan Rust was placed alongside Hagelin and Bonino.

The move paid immediate dividends as Hagelin scored his first goal of the season in the third frame to tie the game at 2-2. The new trio - HBR??? - created several other scoring opportunities.

"We started to play better as individuals, me and (Bonino) as the game went on," Hagelin said. "Rust came in and did a good job of getting to pucks and hitting a few guys. Hopefully, we can build off of that and play better next game."

The key factor of the HBK Line's success was speed. And even though the team flipped two wingers, Rust is no slouch in terms of getting up ice quickly.

"With Rust and Hagelin, two of the speedier guys, it's always fun to get them the puck in the open ice," Bonino said.

Rust has bounced up and down the lineup throughout the opening four games of his season, but he has been consistent with what he brings to the table.

"(Rust) brings speed, he brings energy, he creates a lot of turnovers with his speed, he wins a lot of foot races," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's hard to play against in that regard, regardless of which line we decide to put him with. He brings that element to that line."

And for Rust, his focus is on adding those elements to anyone that skates next to him.

"I'm just playing the same way that I have been playing," Rust told the Pens' official website. "I can't change the way I think, change the way I play, whether I'm going from one line to another, playing with whoever. If I keep doing what I'm doing and read off of my linemates, good things will happen."

Kessel understands the need to switch the lines and welcomes the opportunity to play next to a former NHL MVP and scoring champion.

"Everyone is a different player," Kessel said. "You watch 'Geno' out there, the skill level is unbelievable. He'll find you. Same with the other guys I play with, I had chemistry with those (Bonino and Hagelin) last year. We were getting close, but it just wasn't there yet. We haven't been putting too many goals in the net. We've got to try and change things up a bit." 

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