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Pens' "fourth line" delivers

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

The Penguins posted 52 shots on goal in their 2-1 overtime setback to Edmonton on Saturday afternoon. Two Pittsburgh players posted game highs with six shots on net. One was Evgeni Malkin, who returned after missing the previous 11 games with a lower-body injury. 

The other? Teddy Blueger. 

In fact, Blueger's line - Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese and Brandon Tanev - combined for 12 shots on goal (Aston-Reese, four; Tanev, two).

But when asked about the play of the Penguins' "fourth line," head coach Mike Sullivan had a quick retort. "Which line is that?"

Sullivan added, "The reason I say that is because we have a lot of balance throughout our lineup." It was clarified by the reporter that he was referring to the Blueger line.

Regardless of what numerical distinction the line is assigned, it's clear that the trio has been highly effective when they hit the ice.

"We really like what that line has accomplished for us since we've had them together," Sullivan said. "We've kept them together because we think the role that we've cast them in is a really important role for our team, and they've embraced it."

That coaching staff made it clear to the three players what their identity needs to be, and the players have bought in to the idea.

"As a line we have an identity. We understand the way we want to play and that makes us successful on the ice," Tanev said. "We all know the game we want to play, a fast, physical, north-south game and have the opportunity to chip in offensively. I think we've done that and we want to keep that going."

The coaching staff first united the threesome on Oct. 10 against Anaheim, a span of 11-straight games. And even as the team had to deal with injuries and line changes, they've kept those three together.

Over that time the triumvirate have been able to build some chemistry on the ice.

"The longer you play together, the more you get to know each other on the ice," Blueger said. "It's easier to anticipate. I think some of the plays we've made more recently stem from that. The more comfortable we are with one another it helps."

"When you're able to go out there and build that confidence and chemistry together things become easier," Tanev said. "As the games go on, the shifts go on and each practice you build more confidence and you understand where everyone is on the ice."

And it also helps that all three players bring different attributes. Aston-Reese is a strong, physical player. Tanev is fast and tenacious. Blueger is intelligent and strong defensively.

"It helps when guys bring different elements than when all three guys are the same type of player. This way it balances it out," Blueger said.

But really, they all have one simple philosophy.

"We try to outwork and outcompete whoever we're out there against. That's the base of our game," Blueger said.

The coaching staff hasn't hesitated to throw them on ice no matter the game time, situation or opponent.

"They're a line right now for me that has a distinct identity for our team," Sullivan said. "They're hard to play against. They're strong defensively. They're a momentum line for us. We put them in a lot of difficult circumstances, they get a lot of defensive zone starts. They've responded. I think that line has consistently been a really strong line for us."

So, since we don't know what to call the line, how should we refer to them?

"That's on you guys to figure out," Blueger said with a smile.

Fair enough. Just make sure you don't call them the fourth line.

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