D'Agostini still searching for his niche with Penguins

If Matt D'Agostini's season had gone according to plan, he would have a few goals by now.

Probably would have steady work on the Penguins' No. 3 line, and maybe taken some shifts on the second.

Would have reminded management just what a shrewd move it made by signing him to a one-year, $550,000 contract as a free agent in the offseason.

But the script was rewritten in the preseason when D'Agostini had an unspecified injury that bumped him from a meaningful place in the Penguins' plans to a spot on the long-term injured list.

"Obviously I didn't get off to the start I wanted [because of] the injury," D'Agostini said Monday. "And it's been kind of slow ever since."

Kind of? If his season were progressing any more slowly, it might be moving in reverse.

After sitting out 10 games and 24 days, as required by the LTI regulations, D'Agostini made a two-game cameo recently in which he logged a total of 22 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time and recorded six shots on goal. But he has spent the past three games in street clothes.

And even though he skated alongside Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis in practice Monday at Southpointe, there's no evidence D'Agostini will dress against the New York Rangers Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

That's because he apparently was just holding space for left winger Chris Kunitz, who coach Dan Bylsma said was given a "maintenance day" to deal with "bumps and bruises."

D'Agostini said, "I haven't been told much" about why he hasn't been in the lineup since playing against Toronto and Carolina, but assistant coach Tony Granato, who handles the forwards, disputed the terminology used to characterize that move.

"I wouldn't say he 'lost his spot,' " Granato said. "There are other guys, too, we have on our roster who need to be in the lineup. And the guys who have come in have been very solid."

D'Agostini, 27, scored a career-high 21 goals with St. Louis in 2010-11 and has the speed and shot, if not the consistency, to be a valuable offensive presence.

"I use my speed and my shot to create chances," he said.

His skating also makes it possible for him to be an effective forechecker, which is an important part of his job description.

"Be a guy who can get in on the forecheck because of his speed, be physical on the forecheck," Granato said. "Not run guys through the boards, but just be in a position where he's able to establish a forecheck for us."

Whether he'll get an opportunity to do that against the Rangers isn't known. Failing that, he hopes to dress Saturday night in St. Louis, the city where he spent two full seasons and parts of two others.

"You always like to play against your old team," D'Agostini said.

The Blues traded him to New Jersey last season, and D'Agostini accepted an offer to join the Penguins after hitting the open market in July.

But even though his early months here have run the gamut from, forgettable to frustrating, D'Agostini insists he has no misgivings about joining the Penguins.

"Not at all," he said. "Anytime you have a chance to come to a winning franchise like this ... it's something I wanted to be a part of."

The Penguins, it must be noted, feel the same about having D'Agostini on their depth chart, and show no inclination to even contemplate the idea that he simply might not be a good fit.

"It's way too early to do that," Granato said. "Let's give him a chance to get some consistent minutes in there, and some games to get a really good idea of what he can bring. He hasn't really had that opportunity, mostly because of the injury.

"When he gets back in there, we'll expect him to play his best. ... I'm looking forward to seeing him do some nice things out there for us."

The coaching staff seems confident he'll do that, even though circumstances have conspired to prevent it from happening since training camp opened.

And, for his part, D'Agostini is nowhere near ready to write off 2013-14.

"It's just the start of the season," he said. "There's a long season left."

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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