The Pens practiced Tuesday with the same lines they used in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, and coach Dan Bylsma said he is going to stick with those adjusted combinations on Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.
“We’re on the road, so the matchup is going to be a little bit different in terms of them getting the last change and putting their players in the positions they want offensively,” Bylsma said “So there’ll be some adjustment throughout the game knowing those situations, but yes, it’s the same lines to start the game.”
Zach Sill filled in on the rushes for center Evgeni Malkin, who had a maintenance day and is expected to play against Washington, according to Bylsma.
For a refresher on the changes, Beau Bennett moved up to play with Kunitz and Sidney Crosby while Pascal Dupuis shifted next to Malkin and James Neal. Jussi Jokinen was reunited with former Carolina teammate Brandon Sutter and call-up Brian Gibbons on the third line, while the fourth was Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Craig Adams.
THE FIRST LINE
Bylsma foreshadowed putting Bennett with Crosby all the way back in training camp, saying Malkin wasn’t the only superstar center the Penguins coaches saw the sophomore winger playing with going into this season – they envisioned him playing alongside the captain as well at some point.
That opportunity came on Monday, and the two of them connected for a glorious chance with two minutes left in the first period. Crosby flipped a backhand pass under the stick of a Ducks defenseman to a crashing Bennett, who found himself alone in front of goalie Viktor Fasth but couldn’t get a handle on the puck.
Overall, that line had a lot of extended shifts in the offensive zone partly because of how strong Bennett was with the puck, especially along the boards, which allowed them to get a cycle going.
“He was good,” Crosby said of Bennett. “He held onto the puck and made a lot of good plays there. Had a chance there kind of on a breakaway, the puck just wouldn’t settle down for him. I think it’s something that you have to get used to, too, the speed and playing against different guys, things like that. But I thought he handled it well.”
Bennett, who is a right-handed shot next to a pair of lefties back on his natural right wing (he had actually never played on the left side before coming to Pittsburgh), thought the three of them began to gel as the game went on.
“We got a lot of chances and I thought we started to build a little chemistry together as the game went on,” he said. “Eventually they’ll start going in for us.”
What was his approach to playing with Crosby as opposed to Malkin or Sutter, which he has done this season?
“(Him and Kunitz) play pretty simple,” Bennett said. “They’re not trying too much stuff out there. They’re getting the puck to the net, they’re making the open play when it’s there, so it’s just about getting to the net and trying to get open when you can.”
With the opposition concerned with Crosby, Bennett said he tried to take advantage of the resulting space he got Monday as best he could – but he doesn’t anticipate there being a surplus of that tomorrow on the road. That’s a disadvantage the three of them will have to work through.
“When Sid’s out there, he’s getting a lot of attention,” Bennett said. “Sometimes that’s good because you have a little more room to work. At home, it’s not too big of a deal. We get the last change and whatnot. So on the road I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different.”
THE SECOND LINE
Meanwhile, the fast, energetic and hard-working Dupuis, a left-handed shot moving to the left wing for the first time in a long time, played exactly as advertised with Malkin and Neal.
“He was everything we know ‘Duper’ to be,” Neal said. “Duper brings a lot of speed, he’s great (going) in on the forecheck. I thought we had some good time in their end and got to the net.”
THE THIRD LINE
While there had been virtually no changes to the top six before Monday’s game, when it comes to the third line it seems like Sutter has played with everyone else on the roster. He skated with Bennett, Glass, Adams, Matt D’Agostini, Chuck Kobasew, Harry Zolniercyzk, Chris Conner and Jayson Megna through the first 20 games.
And for the 21st, he got another new linemate in Gibbons – who scored his first NHL goal and added an assist to make a meaningful impact in his first NHL game. But Sutter is familiar with Jokinen from playing parts of four seasons together in Carolina – including time as linemates – before they ended up in Pittsburgh together.
“There’s little bit of familiarity, for sure,” Sutter said. “I’ve played with him in the past and I think he’s very smart at both ends of the rink and a great passer, good playmaker. So I think the three of us, I feel like we had a pretty good game for the most part last night. Hoping we can play that same game in Washington.”