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The Inside Scoop: Consistent Lineup

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens held practice on Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. And the for once, there weren’t many changes.


The Pens used the same forwards and defensive pairs from their previous two games – both wins – a first under head coach Mike Sullivan.

“It helps when you have some consistency to your approach,” Sullivan said. “Having said that we also want to create a competitive environment where guys are fighting to play hard for their positions.

“We have right now what we think is a consistent group. We’ll take that as it comes. The last couple of games we’ve been pleased with the effort as a group and that’s why the lineup hasn’t changed.”

Those units consisted of….
Kunitz-Crosby-Perron
Cullen-Malkin-Kessel
Sheary-Bonino-Hornqvist
Porter-Fehr-Plotnikov
(Wilson)

Maatta-Letang
Dumoulin-Lovejoy
Cole-Daley
(Warsofsky)

The coaching staff has tinkered with many different groupings, but may have finally found one that sticks.

“We wanted to put Phil (Kessel) back with ‘Geno.’ We liked the Sid-Kunitz tandem. The rest were moving parts,” Sullivan said. “That’s how it’s been since I’ve been here. Just trying to find some sort of consistency and I’d like to settle into something and give them a chance to play together for a bit.”    

Maybe the most surprising move has been moving Cullen, who has been an excellent fourth-line center, to wing on the second line.

“(Cullen is) a smart hockey player that plays well at both ends of the rink,” Sullivan said. “He’s a center so he can take faceoffs. So you have two centermen on the ice in defensive situations.

“Because he’s responsible in all three zones and the way he plays, he still has the ability to think the game on their level, I think he can help that line. So far it’s been pretty good.”

Cullen is grateful for the opportunity to play with two dynamic talents in Malkin and Kessel.

“I’m just trying to stay out of their way and do the smaller things that help the line out,” he said. “Those guys are great players. It’s fun to be out with them. You try to find a way to be effective and help out. It’s a different style of play than what I played earlier this year. You have to adapt your game a little bit to fit.”

POWER PLAY
The Pens power play, which had been much maligned for most of the season, has become their biggest strength lately.

Pittsburgh has scored 9 power-play goals in their last 23 chances – an incredible 39.1-percent conversation rate. They’ve potted 2 man-advantage tallies in each of the past 2 games, and is arguably the reason they won both contests.

Crosby offered his thoughts on the reason for the team’s outburst.

“Just shooting when we have the opportunities and taking what they give us, not trying to force anything,” Crosby said. “When they’re pressuring and not giving us time and space you have to execute under those conditions. We’ve been able to do that.”

Hornqvist believes part of the team’s recent success is a result of taking more shots.

“I think we are shooting the puck way more,” he said. “We don’t wait for the perfect play. We shoot the puck and our retrievals have been great, too. When you get the puck back after you’ve shot it, seams open up and with Sid and Geno on the ice at the same time good things will happen.”

And as a net-front player, whose job is to take a beating at the net and look for rebounds, Hornqvist appreciates those extra shots.

“It’s good when they shoot the puck,” he joked. But, seriously. “It’s worse when they don’t shoot it. It’s been good lately.”

THIS N’ AT
There was no update on the status of injured Pens forward Beau Bennett. Sullivan said he’s progressing and there is no timetable on him.
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