Penguins: Speed helps keep Kennedy in lineup
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Measure it any way you like, and Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy is having a pretty fair season.
He has two goals and a couple of assists, along with a plus-minus rating of plus-3, in 12 games. He also is tied for third on the team in takeaways with six.
Those numbers are fairly solid for a guy who fills the kind of blue-collar role Kennedy does for the Penguins. Especially one who, the way many outside the organization saw it a few months ago, wasn't supposed to be here now.
The conventional wisdom in some circles during the off-season was that Kennedy might well be the odd man out during training camp, a spare part for whom the coaching staff might not be able to find a niche.
Such thinking seemed reasonably plausible, at least on some levels, but it wasn't even remotely rooted in reality. At least not according to assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards.
"Not from anybody I've heard from," Granato said after practice Monday at Southpointe.
"I just think he brings too much to us, with his speed.
"If you look at the role he's filled for us the past couple of years, it's very important. His energy ... he's on the puck, he's on the forecheck. He plays a speed game. There are too many assets he brings to the table for someone to think that."
Kennedy, who rarely utters anything resembling an inflammatory syllable, shrugged off the idea that there was any uncertainty about his job security heading into the preseason.
"Guys who were saying that don't really know anything about hockey," he said. "I've been here, I've contributed, I helped win the Stanley Cup.
"Guys who say that are just trying to get stories started. I just worry about my own game and worry about playing well.
"I know I can play in this league. I just try to stick to my guns and help the team out."
Although he is tied for 11th in the team's scoring race, Kennedy has 34 shots on goal, more than any Penguin except Sidney Crosby (52) and Evgeni Malkin (47). That's particularly striking when it is considered that his average ice time of 11 minutes, 45 seconds is the fourth-lowest on the team.
Kennedy scored 15 goals in 2008-09, the second of his three-plus seasons in the NHL.
That's not a bad total for a guy who fills the role Kennedy does, but Granato believes he is capable of generating more, mostly because of his speed and quickness.
"With the minutes he gets and how he plays, his production could be in the 20-goal range," Granato said. "We have a lot of guys who play the power play in front of him -- he doesn't get a lot of power-play ice time -- so getting 20 goals in our league in five-on-five situations is a lot of goals.
"It seems like he gets chances consistently. He sometimes creates scoring chances on his own, out of nothing, because of his speed and how quick he is. I think 20 goals is reasonable."
Kennedy allowed that "I'd like to get a few more points here and there" and that he enters each season with statistical objectives -- "You always have a certain amount you want to get" -- but made the point that he does not obsess over them.
"I just try to focus every day on getting better and doing my best," he said.
It's worth noting that Kennedy scored as many as 22 goals only once while playing major-junior hockey for the Sault-Ste. Marie Greyhounds, so it isn't realistic to expect him to morph into Guy Lafleur.
He does, however, possess the ability to play a solid two-way game, and to exasperate opponents with his skating. And Granato believes Kennedy has the potential to do all of that even more effectively.
"He's a hard guy to play against because he's so quick, so drawing penalties, maybe being a little more physical to get under the skin of opponents would be something he wants to add," Granato said.
"He could drive a defenseman nuts with how quick he is, then become a little more physical in [certain] areas, that could help, as well."
Not that Kennedy is doing badly at all, mind you. Especially for someone who wasn't supposed to be here.
NOTES -- Reading between the lines of coach Dan Bylsma's words, it sounds as if goalie Brent Johnson is a good bet to start two of the three games on the Penguins' trip through the Western Conference that begins Wednesday in Dallas. "He's got some gaudy numbers right now," Bylsma said. "That definitely is a factor in the decisions for this three [games] in four days."
First Published November 2, 2010 12:00 am