Third line doing fine during Penguins’ fast start
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Brandon Sutter knows that for the Penguins to be a successful team, contributions solely from their top two lines won’t be enough.
And Sutter should understand this concept.
The Penguins are riding a six-game winning streak in large part because of the spark that Sutter and his linemates, Nick Spaling and Steve Downie, have provided.
“We can’t rely on the same guys all the time,” Sutter said. “Other guys have to step up.”
Sutter stepped up and pounced on a giveaway at center ice by Winnipeg’s Grant Clitsome midway through the second period of Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win at MTS Centre.
Downie flashed some sweet hands to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead late in the second period when he took a stretch pass from Spaling and flipped a backhander past Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
Coupled with Sutter’s bank-off-the-boards play and Downie’s screen that made Simon Despres’ goal — the first of the game for the Penguins — possible, their third line factored in on every tally and finished with six points.
“We’ve managed to get some offense from the bottom-six forwards,” Sutter said. “That’s always big.”
Sutter, Spaling and Downie staked the Penguins to a 2-0 lead earlier in the week during a 4-1 win at Minnesota, with Spaling and Sutter getting the goals.
Downie again did some of the dirty work and set up Spaling with a feed through traffic from the top of the slot.
“A play where he created something out of a broken play,” Spaling called it. “He gave me a pretty open shot there.”
The whole line has given the Penguins a shot.
Consider, the team’s top six forwards had produced 76 points over the Penguins’ first 10 games.
Over the past two, that number was cut to four — and two came on Patric Hornqvist’s empty-net goal at the end against the Wild.
Meanwhile, the Penguins’ third line has nine points in two games.
“They carried over from the Minnesota game,” Johnston said. “They took advantage of their scoring opportunities (against the Jets), and that was huge.”
The third line’s success gave Johnston confidence.
It also might give him a pretty tough decision to make.
Forward Beau Bennett (knee) is in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and presumably will see game action this weekend.
If everything checks out well — his original target date for a return is Saturday — Bennett could be in the lineup as soon as next week.
But where will he play?
He and Sutter developed of chemistry early in training camp before Bennett injured his MCL in practice, and Johnston has made no secret about wanting to find a long-term winger to play with Sutter.
Johnston also could play Bennett with Evgeni Malkin and shift Blake Comeau into a bottom-six role that’s probably more suited to his physical, direct game.
The good part, though, is that there’s no rush given how well this current iteration of a third line has been playing together.
And Sutter think there’s more.
“There are still things we didn’t do great,” Sutter insisted.
“The biggest thing was we were good defensively. I don’t think we gave up very many chances. That leads to good offense, so we want to keep that going.”