WASHINGTON – Dan Bylsma had the third line in mind when making changes to his top three forward units.
Sure, on the surface it appeared the moves were geared to spark some struggling top-six forwards: Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and even Sidney Crosby.
Actually, this was about Brandon Sutter and the third line he centers.
Reuniting Sutter with winger Jussi Jokinen – they played together in Carolina – was a public admission that what had been tried for Line No. 3 was not working. This was a wise and necessary admission, too.
The Penguins are at their best when their third line is a factor; see the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Final runs.
What had been tried through a quarter of the season wasn’t working.
This third line won’t be the ones that featured a younger Matt Cooke, a young Jordan Staal and a still developing Tyler Kennedy. That mix – Cooke’s physicality, Staal’s imposing size and skill, Kennedy’s speed – provided the Penguins an advantage beyond even Crosby and Malkin being their 1-2 center punch. That third line gave them a tone-setting option that was a nightmare matchup for opposing teams that could not build equal depth in a salary-cap world.
This third line may end up scoring more than any in the Bylsma era, because Sutter looks like he can score more goals and Jokinen is a proven offensive weapon. However, before Monday, Jokinen had played with Malkin on the second line, and the third line consisted of Sutter and nearly 10 different wingers. There was no consistency and very often no sign of life.
That could change now that Jokinen and Sutter are together. It should, but it will only if somebody can become a fixture with those two players.
Nobody has been a fit with Sutter, so now it’s Jokinen’s turn.
No matter, the Penguins need to find out and then find a partner if Jokinen and Sutter prove the answer.
They need a third line to be a factor going forward.
Rob Rossi, ClearChannel’s Penguins Insider, cover the NHL for Trib Total Media. In addition to this blog, his articles can be found here: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/