Penguins notebook: Preseason opens with questions on third line

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The Penguins open their six-game preseason schedule at 6 p.m. today at Columbus and, while coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday that a team's specific exhibition objectives can vary from season to season, there are a few staples.

"There are some things that remain constant, in terms of building a foundation and how we play as a team," Bylsma said. "The standard that's established is the same that it would be every other year for our group."

He added that a half-dozen preseason games is "a perfect number" for evaluating players and laying that foundation.

Bylsma noted that the games are split into three pairs, and that while the majority of players in camp will dress for one of the first two games, 75 or 80 percent of the lineup already is set for Games 3 and 4.

The final two games, he said, will be "more focused on the final roster," suggesting that they will be dress rehearsals for the regular season.

One of the variables Bylsma hopes to address will be the No. 3 line, which has lost all three of its members -- Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy -- since the spring of 2012. Center Brandon Sutter is the only returning regular from that unit.

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start in goal tonight, with Jeff Zatkoff relieving him at some point. Tomas Vokoun is expected to start Monday night when Detroit visits Consol Energy Center and he, too, is expected to play less than a full game.

The rest of the lineup tonight features defensemen Matt Niskanen, Rob Scuderi, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Brendan Mikkelson, Derrick Pouliot and Philip Samuelsson; and forwards Tanner Glass, Chuck Kobasew, Dustin Jeffrey, James Neal, Beau Bennett, Andrew Ebbett, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Zach Sill, Bobby Farnham, Adam Payerl, Joe Vitale, Tom Kuhnhackl and Evgeni Malkin.

New rule in effect

The Penguins and all NHL teams are using hybrid icing in preseason games, and the new rule for pucks that are cleared down the ice by a team on defense could be instituted for the regular season.

"When I first heard about it, I was skeptical, but after a couple of days of camp with that and seeing NHL video on it, I like it a lot," Niskanen said of hybrid icing, where the puck is awarded to the team whose skater reaches the far hash marks first rather than going to the team whose skater touches it first after it crosses the extended goal line.

"You still have races, but the ref is going to determine a lot earlier, before there's a collision, who's going to get the puck. That's a pretty good rule, I think. I can't see many guys not being in favor of it."

Bennett remembers hybrid icing from his college days.

"I'm used to it," Bennett said. "I think it's safer. No, it's for sure safer."

Gear change for goalies

Perhaps less noticeable without close inspection are changes in goaltending equipment and the net.

The size of leg pads has been reduced, but it is different for each player because it is a percentage based on the length of a goalie's leg from knee to waist.

Fleury said he is losing nearly four inches; Vokoun said he has lost two inches per pad.

"They feel just short, like street hockey a little bit," Fleury said, adding that the space between his pads when he goes down into a butterfly is probably the biggest concern.

"It's not too bad," he said. "You've just got to be aware of it."

While the net opening remains 6 by 4 feet, the frame is four inches shallower and doesn't flare out as far from the posts along the ice. That leaves more space to maneuver behind the net and a wider array of passing angles from there.

"We love the room behind the net," Bennett said. "Especially for top-end guys like [Malkin] and [Sidney Crosby]. They're going to be having a field day from back there."

Bylsma noted, though, that the space also will help defensively on breakouts.

Saturday scrimmage

Matt D'Agostini, Jussi Jokinen and Pouliot scored to lead Group A to a 3-0 victory against Group C in the Penguins' public scrimmage at Consol Energy Center.

Fleury and second-round draft pick Tristan Jarry shared the shutout.

Attendance for the event was not recorded, but one team official estimated the turnout at 4,000.

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