Penguins Notebook: Dallas duo develops into upcoming stars

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DALLAS -- The Penguins don't get a first-hand look at Western Conference clubs very often, so they sometimes aren't particularly familiar with personnel based in the Central and Pacific divisions.

Still, they knew all about the Dallas tandem of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin before facing the Stars Saturday night at American Airlines Center.

Although Benn and Seguin, who had combined for 39 goals in Dallas' first 51 games, weren't teammates until this season, they quickly have formed one of the NHL's most volatile duos.

Not quite Sidney Crosby-Chris Kunitz or Evgeni Malkin-James Neal, perhaps, but not all that far from it, either.

"Those guys together, it's very dynamic," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "You see Benn's speed and grit and ability to shoot the puck, he's a dangerous guy.

"And Seguin, I don't know if he's gotten another gear this year, but the way he's playing -- the speed he's playing [with], attacking -- I think it's better than what we saw from him in Boston [which traded him to the Stars after the 2013 season]."

Benn and Seguin became close friends at training camp, and clicked when Dallas coach Lindy Ruff began to deploy them together.

"I think it's just one of those things where there's chemistry between two players," Benn said. "You just kind of have it. It seems like Tyler and I have had it since Day 1."

Rookie Valeri Nichushkin has been their most frequent linemate -- "He's been with us for probably three-quarters of the year," Benn said. "He seems like a pretty good fit for us" -- although Ruff has tried a number of players alongside them.

He even separated Benn and Seguin briefly, but it seems unlikely that will happen very often. Their partnership clearly is a productive one, even if it still is in its embryonic stages.

"There's a lot more that we can still prove," Seguin said. "We're only 50 games into our careers with each other. Who knows how long this could go?"

Where it all began

The game in Dallas brought winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen of the Penguins back to the city where they broke into the NHL.

Neal, a pretty fair goal-scorer in his days with the Stars, has developed into one of the NHL's most dangerous shooters, and Niskanen, whose confidence had been shattered in his time with former Dallas coach Marc Crawford, is having an exceptional season.

Niskanen entered the Stars game with a career-best six-game points streak and has been effective in every role the Penguins have asked him to take on this season.

"He's a guy who just continues to get better," Crosby said. "He's played a lot of power play at different times and really done a good job of that. He's just continued to get better, but probably the biggest thing is when he's been put in different situations, he's just handled it well and has played really consistently for us."

Gonchar still going

Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar appeared in his 1,223rd NHL game Saturday night, and will turn 40 April 13.

But even though he doesn't have the impact he did earlier in his career -- Gonchar had one goal and 15 assists in 45 games before facing the Penguins -- he doesn't sound as if he's ready to retire anytime soon.

"Obviously, I still love this game," he said. "That's why I'm here."

Gonchar added that he expects to continue playing "as long as I'm enjoying it and my body lets me."

He has one season remaining on a contract he signed as a free agent in July with the Stars.

Jeffrey demoted

The Stars assigned forward Dustin Jeffrey, who they claimed off waivers Nov. 17 from the Penguins, to their American Hockey League affiliate in Austin, Texas.

Jeffrey had no goals and one assist in 12 games with the Stars before being demoted, and Ruff gave a decidedly mixed review of his performance.

"He was in on some good [scoring] opportunities, but didn't finish," Ruff said. "To take that next step, [the challenge] is to become a finisher, because when you call somebody up and you've put them in a pretty good role and you get the opportunities, you want some results.

"I like his skating. I like his shot. I just thought there were some situations where maybe [Jeffrey should have been] harder on the puck or just finish. Flat-out finish."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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