Chief among those at Monday’s gameday skate was the promotion of second-year winger Beau Bennett to the Penguins’ top line alongside center Sidney Crosby and left wing Chris Kunitz. In a corresponding move, Pascal Dupuis participated in drills on the left wing of Evgeni Malkin‘s line, with James Neal remaining on his preferred right side.
The Penguins probably hope Bennett can add a bit more creativity to a No. 1 line that was very straight-line oriented with Dupuis and Kunitz flanking Crosby. While Bennett brings a change of pace with a more deliberate, cerebral style, Kunitz still gives that line the puck pursuit and net-front presence it needs, with Crosby tying it all together from the middle of the ice.
Meanwhile, Dupuis will give Malkin’s line the forechecking wing it has been missing ever since Kunitz was united with Crosby two seasons ago. Kunitz, Malkin and Neal were arguably the NHL’s most dangerous line in 2011-12 while Crosby recovered from his concussion symptoms.
The effects of this shuffling were felt down on the third line, too, as Jussi Jokinen was placed on Brandon Sutter‘s left wing. The two former Hurricanes have played together before, and they were joined by recent AHL call-up Brian Gibbons on the right side. Gibbons, 25, leads the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in assists (15) and points (22).
Gibbons played four years at Boston College before the Penguins signed him as a college free agent in 2011. He has gradually climbed the WBS depth chart in his three pro seasons, culminating in his first NHL recall Monday morning.
The Penguins (12-8-0, 24 points) will likely need all the offensive spark they can get for their 7:30 p.m. faceoff with the NHL-best Anaheim Ducks (15-5-2, 32 points) at Consol Energy Center. Anaheim leads the tough Pacific Division by one point over San Jose and Phoenix, although the Ducks are winless (0-2-1) on their four-game road trip that ends tonight.
Anaheim’s current swoon followed a five-game winning streak to start the month. The Penguins, meanwhile, have dropped four of five in regulation and have scored exactly one goal in each of those four losses. Pittsburgh looked ready to break out of their slump after Friday’s 4-1 defeat of Nashville, but the Pens were on the opposite end of that identical score Saturday in New Jersey.
Superstar centers Crosby and Malkin haven’t been doing their part in recent weeks. Crosby, who now trails St. Louis’ Alex Steen for the NHL scoring lead, has only one goal in his last 10 games, while Malkin’s mystifying goal drought stretched to 13 games with his goose egg against the Devils.
Just as Crosby’s fallen behind in the race for the Art Ross Trophy, the Penguins are now a point behind Washington for the Metropolitan Division lead. The Capitals have a game in hand, which the Pens will make up tonight.