A candidate to play alongside them on the right wing is Beau Bennett, who moved into that slot during the Pens’ 5-2 loss to Calgary on Saturday and practiced there again today.
“What I like about Beau’s game now is his competitiveness has picked up a little bit,” head coach Mike Johnston said of the fourth-year pro. “I think as he gets more and more pro games, that’s going to be a key thing for him. I saw some positive signs (from him playing in that spot).
“He’s a good puck possession guy. When he has the puck on his stick, he makes good plays. He controls the puck. I believe he started the season with some confidence. He’s carrying confidence and that’s another important factor for him.”
That confidence of the big differences about Bennett now as opposed to when he last got a shot on Crosby’s wing during the 2013-14 season, which was just his second in the NHL. Bennett also pointed to his conditioning, as he changed his offseason training routine and worked tirelessly over the summer so he could come to Pittsburgh in the right shape.
“I think I’m better equipped to keep up with his pace of the game,” said Bennett, who has two goals in eight games played so far this season.
“I mean, I haven’t gotten the production I would have wanted over the last couple games, but I feel like the chances are there and it’s only a matter of time before capitalizing, especially with a guy like Sid. He garners so much attention on the ice, it might open more room for me and ‘Duper.’ So it’s a good thing.”
While Bennett hasn’t been getting on the scoresheet as often as he’d like, overall, the 23-year old is satisfied with his play in the last six games since returning from an upper-body injury.
“I’m playing solid defensively and getting pretty good chances,” he said.
PERRON TALKS HIS LINE
Other tweaks Johnston made to his lines during Monday’s practice was having Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist skate with Nick Bonino and Daniel Sprong rotate with Sergei Plotnikov on the right wing with Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen.
“We looked at some different combinations here in practice and then we’ll make a decision (as to what lines we’ll use against Montreal),” Johnston said. “We’re not going to skate (Tuesday), so we’ll make a decision on Wednesday in the game-day skate.”
The one line that will probably stay together, said Johnston, is the combination of David Perron, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel – as they’ve been the Pens’ most consistent and productive
trio since being put together starting with Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win over Washington on Oct. 28.
I sat down with Perron after practice today and had a talk with him about why he thinks the three of them clicked the way they did.
“It’s because of the other two,” he deadpanned right away.
But on a more serious note, Perron talked about why he thought their line was working from his perspective.
“I think obviously when you see your name with those two guys, I think I knew what I needed to bring for our line to be successful,” Perron told me. “That was to be really intense, really physical, on the forecheck.”
When he is on the forecheck, Perron said knowing where Malkin and Kessel are before he tries to make a play has been key.
“I can’t talk for them, but for me, when I go on the forecheck, if I know I have a chance of getting the puck or creating something, I look before I get to the corner to see where they are,” Perron explained.
“I remember an example last game, I put the puck in the corner and I knew I was going to get there first. I looked and I saw 'Geno,' that he was going to be on the wall. So as soon as I got the puck I put it to the wall right away before getting hit. If I don’t know where he is, I’m not getting him that puck.
“That’s kind of my job, I think. Try getting those pucks and be aware of where they are on the ice. Try and feed off them. Geno has given me a lot of good chances and same with Phil. So it’s been fun.”
Perron is also trying to bring a defensively responsible mindset so that Malkin and Kessel can have the freedom to be creative at both ends of the ice.
That means usually being the F3 in the offensive zone, which is the trailing forward who hangs back and tends to adjust based off what the other two players are doing. The F3 generally becomes the F1 on defense, which is the player who gets back first to help out.
“Sometimes getting back, I’ve played F1 in our zone more than I’ve ever played,” Perron said. “And Geno and Phil, obviously they like to try plays and I try to make sure we have a good F3 also and that we don’t get caught up ice too much.”
The X's and O's aside, overall, Perron said the three of them enjoy playing together.
“Phil is very fun guy to be around, I think in the room and same with Geno,” Perron said. “We’re having fun with it together and sometimes he’ll chirp me and I’ll chirp back and stuff like that. Whatever it is, if I didn’t get a puck I should have got, he’s like, ‘hey, get me that puck!’ Or sometimes I’ll yell at him to battle and stuff like that, so that’s pretty good.”