Beau Bennett celebrates a goal against the Wild in November.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Sullivan coached Beau Bennett for less than 20 minutes in his Penguins debut behind the bench Dec. 14 against the Washington Capitals.
That was before Capitals forward T.J. Oshie leveled Bennett awkwardly into the boards at 18:46 of the first period, resulting in a month of rest and rehabilitation for Bennett’s right shoulder.
That’s behind him now, and Bennett practiced with the team Wednesday, taking a major step toward returning to the lineup. He is not expected to be back tonight for the Penguins’ first game against the Philadelphia Flyers this season, but he might play against Vancouver and Washington this weekend.
The bigger question is where Bennett will fit in the lineup?
“I know what kind of player he is. I know where I think he can help us win games,” said Sullivan. “Obviously, he has some offensive prowess. He should be able to help us on the power play. I think I have options with him as far as which line I can use him with. I haven’t made that decision yet. As he gets closer, we will.”
Bennett, who found his scoring touch in the first half, had just been elevated to the top line with Sidney Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz for a handful of games before he was injured. That duo has now found some chemistry with Patric Hornqvist.
Evgeni Malkin’s line, with newly acquired Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, doesn’t appear to have any vacancies.
Sullivan seems to like the budding third-line chemistry with the Tom Kuhnhackl-Eric Fehr-Bryan Rust combo, leaving some potential room on the fourth line.
Bennett said he has been skating on his own for two weeks and felt good at practice, but did shy away from a few contact drills, mostly so his teammates didn’t need to back off.
He said he still hates being on the sideline and agreed it has been frustrating this season after recovering from the injury woes of last season. He also injured himself celebrating a goal earlier this season.
“I’ve been injured a lot. It’s always frustrating. I think people don’t realize that when you’re injured, you’re not just sitting out, you’re hurting,” said Bennett. “You’re sitting on the sidelines, you’re uncomfortable, you’re trying to get back as quick as possible. At the same time, you’ve got to listen to your body, do right by you and hope this doesn’t become a problem in a future.”
Bennett said he doesn’t blame Oshie for a dirty hit, but, in retrospect, believes he put himself in a vulnerable position.
“It’s not a dirty hit. It’s a dirty area to hit,” said Bennett. “Oshie, he’s always been a good hitter. He’s never really had any cheap shots. Put myself in a vulnerable position. I was hitting a bouncing puck, trying to get it down in the corner. Unfortunately, I thought they’d blown the zone, all their forwards. He was right behind me, so, right when I turned, he was off balance. That happens, and [if] I’m in the middle of the ice it’s a no-problem hit. Just being three feet away from the boards I went right into my shoulder. That’s how it goes, I guess.”
All he asks for, when he does return, is a place in the lineup.
“All you can ask for is to play and make an impact and play big minutes,” said Bennett.
“I know I’m a little rusty. Even out there [Wednesday], I missed a lot of passes I normally don’t miss. I think just getting back playing with NHL guys you realize that the speed is, it’s really fast out there. I shook off the rust out there, got better as the practice went on and hopefully make an impact this weekend.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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