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Third Line's A Charm

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
They’re three of the smallest players on the Penguins roster, but their play has been huge.

Pittsburgh’s third line of Chris Conner, Mark Letestu and Tyler Kennedy has been dynamite for the Penguins over their 11-0-1 unbeaten stretch.

The speed, tenacity and work ethic the line brings to the ice each game, especially in the opposing team’s zone, has been instrumental to the team’s nine-game winning streak and a first-place tie with Washington atop the Eastern Conference standings.

“All three of those guys are energy-type players, they all have great speed and they all kind of make a choice to play that way,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “They know that in order for that line to be successful, they need to play in the offensive zone and they’ve really bought into that mentality. It’s proved to be incredibly successful.”

With Conner standing at 5-foot-8 and Letestu and Kennedy each measuring 5-foot-11, the players know their strength lies in their fleetness of foot.

They’ve used that to their advantage each game to outskate their opponents and establish a forecheck down low. They manage the puck, drive to the net and generally aim to be a “pain” to play against.

“Nobody likes three guys buzzing around like that,” Letestu said. “So recently it’s been giving the team momentum and that’s what one of our main focuses are.”

It’s been proving effective, as head coach Dan Bylsma said: “I would hate to play against you guys.”

Their puck-possession style of play opens the door for the line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis to come out and capitalize on the tired legs of the opposition.

“(The third line) is the line that goes out after their goal in the first period, has a big shift ... and the next line over the boards gets the benefit of what they bring to the team,” Bylsma said. “They’ve been doing that pretty consistently for us over this stretch.”

“We’re playing well right now just by working with each other and using our speed to our advantage,” Kennedy said. “We want to make them turn pucks over, and hang onto pucks in their own end. We’re doing that pretty well right now.”

They’ve also been chipping in offensively, with each player getting on the scoresheet Saturday.

Kennedy scored a goal in Pittsburgh's 7-2 rout of Columbus and now has six points (2G-4A) over his past eight games. Conner added an assist and also has two goals in that same stretch, including the game-winning tally in a 3-2 win over Florida on Nov. 22.

Letestu notched a pair of assists against the Blue Jackets to improve his point total to 12 points (4G-8A) through 28 games this season, ranking ninth in scoring among NHL rookies.

He attributes his line’s chemistry to their ability to relate to other. All three forwards have taken similar paths to get to the NHL, spending time in the minors before earning their current spots on the Pittsburgh roster.

“I think it just develops,” Conner said of their chemistry. “We’re kind of the same type of players. We’re hard-nosed and we get the pucks in, just hard working players. When you have that kind of work ethic, the chemistry just comes along with that.”

Kennedy spent the 2006-07 season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before posting 19 points (10G-9A) as a Pittsburgh rookie in 2007-08. Letestu had played the past three seasons with WBS before joining the Penguins at the start of this season, while Conner got recalled on Nov. 10 after he posted nine points (3G-6A) in 11 games.

“I think all of us, we’ve come from the same place and worked our way up,” Letestu said. “We kind of have that to relate to. It’s pretty easy for me to play with guys who got one gear, and that’s full out.”

When Paul Martin scores goals, he does it in an epic fashion.

Before Saturday’s game, the blueliner had just one goal through 27 contests. But when he scored a pair of unassisted goals in Pittsburgh’s 7-2 win over Columbus, he became just the second defenseman in franchise history to accomplish such a feat.

Before Martin, the last Penguins player with two unassisted goals in one game was Mario Lemieux on March 27, 1988. The only other defenseman to do it was Ab DeMarco on Feb. 24, 1974 at Chicago—seven years before the 29-year-old Martin was born.

This was Martin’s second-career two-goal performance, with the other coming on Feb. 9, 2008 versus Carolina.
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