Promising young forward drops to third line in Penguins' lineup shuffle



Beau Bennett is, to put it charitably, miscast.

In just about every way possible.

He’s a top-six talent, but is being deployed by the Penguins in a bottom-six role. He is a right winger by trade, but is playing primarily on the left side.

None of that seems to faze Bennett, though.

He has not a single disparaging syllable to utter about anything as the Penguins, who are one victory shy of earning a spot in the Eastern Conference final for the second year in a row, prepare to face the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series tonight at Consol Energy Center.

Sure, Bennett figures his long-term future is on one of the top two lines — just about everyone else in organized hockey sees it that way, too — but he figures he can contribute on the No. 3 line, too. Not necessarily by scoring as often as he would in a top-six spot, but by helping to make it possible for some teammates to get goals.

“Playing bottom-six, it’s about wearing [the opponent] down and trying to affect their [defensemen],” he said. “So that when our top-six do get out there, they can take advantage.”

And, if Bennett has a preference for which position he plays, on the third line or any other, he isn’t saying.

“To be honest,” he said, “I really don’t care that much.”

Bennett’s personal stats line so far in the 2014 playoffs — one goal and four assists in 10 games — is nothing special, but there’s nothing embarrassing about it, either. He has been productive and responsible enough that, even with a surplus of wingers on the active roster, there has been a sweater hanging in his locker-room stall every game night.

“He’s in the lineup,” said assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the forwards. “We’ve got some forwards who are healthy scratches, and he’s still in there.”

Injuries, including a wrist injury that had to be surgically repaired and forced him to sit out 50 games, limited him to 21 regular-season games.

Bennett has acknowledged numerous times that he still does not have full strength in his wrist, which affects his shot, but downplays its impact on his overall game.

“I try to put it out of my mind and not think about it too much,” he said. “It affects me a little bit, but you can’t play like it affects you. When it’s taped up, it’s all good.”

Lately, Bennett has been matched up with Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale for most game-day skates and practices, although that generally changes when game time arrives.

Sutter has been getting bumped up to the second line to fill the spot that opens when center Evgeni Malkin moves to the right side with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

Marcel Goc then goes from center on the fourth line to the middle of the third, while Vitale drops to fourth-line center and Lee Stempniak, who starts out (on paper, anyway) with Crosby and Kunitz, shifts into Vitale’s place on the right side of the third line.

The Bennett-Goc-Stempniak unit isn’t a classic checking line, although Goc can be used in a shutdown role and his wingers can be responsible defensively.

They also score occasionally, and Bennett nearly got his second of the playoffs midway through the first period of the Penguins’ 4-2 victory in Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

He collected a carom off the backboards and had an uncontested chance from the right side of the crease, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist denied him. Which Lundqvist has done to more than a few Penguins forwards when they’ve gotten quality opportunities in this series.

Although Bennett obviously would have liked to capitalize on that chance, Granato said the coaching staff isn’t necessarily looking to him— or any other individual player — to turn up on the score sheet more often than he has during the past few weeks.

“There was a lot made in the first series [against Columbus] about different guys not producing and whatever,” Granato said. “We produced enough to win four games before the other team did, and that’s the way you have to look at it as a coaching staff.

“Now, we want to get one more than the other team in the next game. Who gets it and how they get it, it really doesn’t matter. As long as you’re contributing at both ends of the rink, that’s what you’re looking for.”

No matter what line the guy happens to be on or what position he is playing.

MORE on Pens: Penguins have a chance to end series at home

 


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

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