Bennett returns to No. 2 line for Penguins

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Beau Bennett didn't know when management's decision would have to be made, and he certainly wasn't privy to what it would be.

But, after the Penguins' game-day skate Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Bennett said he wouldn't second-guess anything the front office did to clear a spot on the 23-man roster for Evgeni Malkin when he was ready to return from a concussion.

Even if that meant sending Bennett back to their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.

"They know what they're doing," Bennett said. "Whatever happens, it's a good decision."

It turned out that Malkin, who missed four games with his injury, rejoined the lineup for the 4-3 victory Monday against Tampa Bay, which was earlier than anyone had seemed to expect.

That compelled general manager Ray Shero to make a couple of moves, rather than just one.

Although winger Zach Boychuk was placed on waivers to open a long-term spot, he remained on the 23-man roster until being claimed Tuesday by Nashville.

Someone still had to be pared from the roster immediately so that Malkin could dress for the Tampa Bay game. Bennett was a logical choice, since he and defenseman Simon Despres are the only players on the major league roster who don't have to pass through waivers to join the Baby Penguins.

Sending Bennett to Wilkes-Barre was an obvious move, but it was clear immediately that it wouldn't be a permanent one, either

Turned out his demotion lasted even less time than expected; the Penguins recalled him so quickly that he didn't even miss a practice.

Fact is, Bennett said he never made it out of town.

"I was scheduled to go down [to Wilkes-Barre Tuesday] morning," he said. "With Zach being picked up, it was kind of crazy. I got recalled and, luckily, I hadn't left yet."

The Penguins worked out at noon at Southpointe, which also was when Bennett's recall took effect. A team executive said the Penguins made a point of not allowing him to step on the ice until 12 o'clock had passed.

Coach Dan Bylsma made it worth the wait for him, though, because he has decided that Bennett will get steady work on a line with Malkin and James Neal.

Bylsma attached an asterisk to that -- there will be times, he said, when Bennett will be replaced because the Penguins want to have two centers on the ice or because they'll want the defensive presence a guy like Matt Cooke can bring -- but he seems adamant that Bennett will be a regular in that spot.

"That's the line [Bennett] is going to play with," Bylsma said. "And, yes, all three periods."

Bennett, whose NHL experience still can be measured in minutes, is understandably reluctant to lobby for a job on such a high-profile line.

"Whatever the coach is thinking, that's how it's going to be," he said. "They know better than I do."

Nonetheless, Bennett's enthusiasm for his assignment is difficult to miss. He has played with Malkin and Neal occasionally since being promoted from Wilkes-Barre in mid-February and believes their games will mesh over time.

"The more we practice, the more chemistry we'll build," he said. "Those guys are so good with the puck, [you] just try to find open space and get out of their way."

Bennett has appeared in eight NHL games, putting up one goal and two assists while averaging 11 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time. That is 10 fewer seconds per game than Boychuk has gotten in his eight NHL appearances (seven of those with the Penguins) this season.

His numbers are nothing special, but Bennett said he tries to not put too much emphasis on statistics.

"If you're playing well and you get some points, it's great," he said. "But, if you don't play well and you happen to get on the score sheet, sneak on there a couple of times, you don't want to be satisfied with your game.

"You want to look at yourself and try to improve in areas where, when it gets down to the end of the season, you're doing the right things to win when it matters most. You're not going to get those easy points when it comes playoff time."

Those words reflect the mindset of a seasoned pro; his tone and smile exude the joy of someone who's being well compensated to live a dream.

"We get to play hockey for a living," he said. "That's the best thing [about being in the NHL].

"We grew up loving the game, and I still love the game. It's just very fortunate to be able to play for your livelihood."

No matter, it seems, where he happens to be doing it.

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Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 6, 2013 5:00 AM


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