The past three seasons, the Penguins have had arguably the best third line in the NHL with some combination of Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy (above), Jarkko Ruutu or Jordan Staal haunting opposing top six lines.
With the multiple injuries suffered by Staal and Cooke's promotion to the second line, only Kennedy remains on that unit.
Over the past week, the team has pieced together a new third line which has produced the same results, albeit through different means, primarily speed.
Kennedy has been joined by Chris Conner and Mark Letestu to form what we imagine is one of the fastest lines in the NHL. And despite not being a very large line (Conner - 5-foot-8, 180 pounds; Kennedy - 5-foot-11, 183 pounds; Letestu - 5-foot-11, 195 pounds) in the three games they have been together, the opposition has yet to score a goal against the unit. Additionally, they have created a few quality scoring chances.
Conner, Kennedy, Letestu and Dan Bylsma all spoke yesterday about the line:
Mark Letestu (right)
On the line:
On their speed:
"I think that's definitely a big thing for our line. Defenseman have to respect that and give us some room to make some plays. You see it with (Conner) and (Kennedy), they're working so hard. It's easy for me to play off those guys' speed and come into some open ice."
On third-line duties compared to duties on the top two lines:
"I think I try to keep it the same. Trying to help, not hurt. You get into a situation on the third line, you don't want to get scored on. You're not going to play as much as the top two lines. Chip in offensively. And be an energy line. Get the bench and the fans going. The last couple games, I think we feel we've done that."
Is he the "slow" guy by default on this line:
"I think so. Probably the big guy too. I'm the crasher and banger." (Laughs).
"He battles like a bugger every night. That's what he does. He works hard up and down his wing. He finishes checks. He's a guy if he you get him the puck in the slot, you know what he's going to do with it. He's not going to pass it. He's a shooter. When he gets hot, he's deadly."
"Tons of speed. Tons of speed. He's got arguably the best speed on the team. He's someone who's going to burn (defensemen) wide. When he's going good down below the goal line he spinning and losing defensemen. And he's a real good passer so he's finding linemates for tap-in."
On the similar systems with the NHL and AHL Penguins having the same systems:
"It definitely takes a lot of the guess work out of it. You're coming up there, rather than worrying about playing hard and doing the right things out there, you're thinking about the "Oh my God, the systems are different. I got to do this. I got to do that." It's really streamlined here. The terminology, whether its a (Pittsburgh) set forecheck or a Wilkes-Barre set forecheck, it's streamlined the whole way through. It takes a lot of the guest work out of it."
Tyler Kennedy (right)
"Mark is a great player. He's one of those guys who could play anywhere. He's so positionally sound. "
"Conner is unreal fast. He's got good speed. He makes good plays with the puck."
Has the similar systems taught at the NHL and AHL levels made it easy to develop chemistry:
"For sure. We don't really have to talk much. They're doing the same things we are down there. When they come up, they know exactly what to do. They know all the plays and everything."
On the lines lack of size:
"I guess it just shows you don't need to big to play in the NHL. There are other parts of the game."
Chris Conner (right)
"I think we bring a lot of energy and good speed. I think we're all on the same page of how we want to play. We know what we want to do. When you're on the same page, it's pretty easy to create some chemistry."
On their speed and size:
"I think we all have the speed and at the same time, I don't think any of us are afraid to go into the corners to try and get the puck."
On the NHL and AHL Penguins have the same systems:
"It's helped this year, same as last year. You don't have to adjust to (different) systems. Sometimes when you get called up in other places, you got to adjust and learn other things."
"Really smart. He's got finish too. He's really a complete player."
"Lots of speed, energy. Great shot. "
On the line:
"They present a big speed factor for other teams. The (top) line is going to see the other team’s top (defensive) pairing. The other top (defensive pairing) will go against (Evgeni Malkin's) line. So we talk about (Letestu) and (Kennedy) with great speed and tenacity. They have an opportunity to create and have created in the offensive zone, with their speed. They do it on the forecheck and get to the pucks first. They’ve done it with quickness and speed in the offensive zone. They’ve created quite a bit of offensive-zone time and a little bit of a scare factor for the other team when they’re on the ice."
(Photos: Kennedy first-Getty Images; Conner-Jeff Gross/Getty Images; Kennedy second-Christian Petersen/Getty Images; Mike Stobe/Getty Images)