Penguins lines are a-shifting
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The experiment, if that's what it is, is taking on a new element.
Tyler Kennedy will get a look on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal tonight when the Penguins play in Winnipeg. He'll even do it on the left wing.
"[Neal] likes the right side, so I'll try the left side and see how it goes," Kennedy, usually a right winger, said Thursday after coach Dan Bylsma shuffled three of his four forward lines in practice at Consol Energy Center.
"I don't think I've ever played on the left side. I know if I go in focused, it shouldn't be too bad [a transition]."
One of the burning questions for the Penguins entering this lockout-shortened season was who would fill the spot on the left side next to Malkin. Chris Kunitz played there last season -- when Malkin won the NHL scoring title and Neal piled up 40 goals -- but he was shifted back to Sidney Crosby's line now that Crosby is healthy.
A shortened training camp with no preseason games didn't allow for much in the way of auditions. For the first two games and at least for the start of the home opener Wednesday against Toronto, it was budding power forward Eric Tangradi, 23, who joined Malkin and Neal.
After two road wins, the 5-2 loss against the Maple Leafs, had the Penguins scrambling. There was a lot of special-teams activity and the Penguins played from behind most of the game. In an effort to spark his team, Bylsma used many forward-line combinations.
He used Malkin and Crosby together and, at times, put Kennedy or Tanner Glass with Malkin and Neal.
Tangradi, though, nearly became a nonfactor. He played 2 minutes, 25 seconds in the first period, 0:36 in the second and 0:26 in the third.
Early in the game, Tangradi had the puck along the boards as Malkin flew down the slot with a Maple Leafs player on his heels. It looked like a perfect setup, but Tangradi's pass was behind Malkin, and the play dissolved.
"We were having some trouble creating offense, so they were trying to make some adjustments," Tangradi said. "How the game was going and playing from behind had a lot to do with it."
By practice Thursday, Tangradi was on the left wing of the fourth line with center Joe Vitale and right winger Craig Adams. Glass moved up from the fourth line to Kennedy's former spot on the third line with left winger Matt Cooke and center Brandon Sutter.
Only Crosby's line, with Kunitz and right winger Pascal Dupuis, remained intact.
Tangradi, who has no points in three games, is willing to ride things out.
"I'm not frustrated," he said. "I know that if I get back to playing my game and playing the right way, there may be an opportunity that may arise in the future."
Bylsma confirmed as much, noting that Kennedy and Glass already have gotten spot work on Malkin's line and such maneuvers could happen again depending on game situations.
Kennedy, 26, has been something of a fixture on the third line with Cooke. Before this season, that line was centered by Jordan Staal. Now, it is centered by Sutter, who came over as part of the Staal trade to Carolina in June.
Malkin is willing to give Kennedy a look.
"He's a really good skater and moves the puck," Malkin said." He can score. I think now he has lots of confidence. We'll see. We've never played together for a long time, but he's a good guy."
Kennedy, 5 feet 11 and 183 pounds, is a noticeably different left winger than Tangradi, who is 6-4, 221. Kennedy likes to fly down the wing and let loose shots, although he will have a lot of responsibilities playing on Malkin's line.
"They create a lot of offense," Kennedy said of his two new linemates. "I know I've got to get on pucks hard and be very good defensively. Skating, shooting pucks, trying to get to the net. Both of them are shooters, so I've got to try to get to the net and jam in some rebounds.
"It's a great opportunity, and I hope I make the best of it."
Tangradi's skating -- something he has worked on since coming to the Penguins in a trade with Anaheim in February 2009 -- might have held him back in terms of landing a permanent spot alongside Malkin. That shouldn't be a problem for Kennedy.
"Tyler provides some speed and someone who can flat-out shoot the puck, a guy who can hunt down pucks for that group," Bylsma said. "He certainly can keep up with them speed-wise."
First Published January 25, 2013 12:00 am