When the Penguins parted ways with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy this past summer, it was guaranteed Brandon Sutter would be breaking in new linemates on the third line this season.
Three and a half months into the 2013-14 campaign, Sutter is still breaking them in.
Primarily due to injuries, Sutter has been flanked at various times by the likes of Matt D'Agostini, Chris Conner, Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Jussi Jokinen, Beau Bennett, Andrew Ebbett, Jayson Megna, Chuck Kobasew, Taylor Pyatt, Joe Vitale, Brian Gibbons, Dustin Jeffrey and Harry Zolnierczyk.
As Dan Bylsma recently said, “There has been zero consistency with the players on the third line right from the start of the season. There hasn’t been continuity. You can’t look to say, ‘That was the third line.’ It hasn’t been there. To get chemistry, to get consistency, to get even an identity to the third line has really been… it’s not been able to do it. Whether that’s been a checking line, a speed line, a physical line, the parts change too often to get that.”
(In Wednesday's 4-3 win against the Capitals, even more injuries forced Sutter to vacate the third line and take up residence on the first line as a right winger.)
Earlier this week. Sutter talked about the revolving door of wingers he's played with this season.
Has it been difficult going through so many linemates?
"A little bit. It can be switching a lot. We all have the same defensive zone concepts and plays that have a lot of structure. I think it’s more affected more in the offensive zone. You’ve got to kind of build chemistry with guys to create a lot offense. I think sometimes it’s been somewhat of a struggle doing that. Guys I’ve played with are good defensively and at least we’ve been playing the right way and playing a good structural game. Unfortunately we haven’t a ton of time or as much time as we’d like in the offensive zone."
You've played with quite a few players such as Pyatt who is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Others such as Conner (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) are much smaller. How different have the styles or physical abilities of each player been?
"It’s been a lot of different styles and everything. That’s for sure. Definitely. You get a guy like Chris Conner who is quick and really moves. He’s quick down low and stuff. Then you get a guy like Taylor Pyatt who is maybe not as quick but he’s so big and strong down low. He holds on to pucks and protects pucks down there. There is a lot of variation between guys. Again, it’s just different styles for every player. The main thing is all these guys can play in the defensive zone and are smart about coming back to our end. We’ve got to make sure we’re not giving up chances against more important than scoring goals. As the year goes on, you want to find ways to create offense and I think for our team going into the stretch here, you want to have three or four lines that can contribute almost every night. That’s kind of our goal and I want to try building something with a couple guys here."
What's key when you are the steadiest component of a line?
"I think it’s just communicating a lot. That’s the biggest thing with new guys, communicating on and off the ice about different things. I think you can try to get some concepts down always reminding guys of certain things. Whether it’s make sure you have high forward or making you’re coming back to our zone and stop. Things like that. Little details that really help when you’re playing with new guys. There’s a bit of an adjustment every game when you’ve got a new guy."
Many of the linemates you've had on the third line have spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in this system.
That helps. Definitely. Especially like I said about the [defensive] zone. Coming back to your zone and playing defense, everyone’s got the same structure to them. I think offensively we have structure too but there’s more creativity involved in it. More chemistry that you see. Look our top lines. [Sidney] Crosby-[Chris] Kunitz or [Evgeni] Malkin and [James] Neal. That’s chemistry that develops. But if we all have similar defensive zone concepts, that can [help].
Maybe playing on Brandon Sutter's line is a curse.
"I guess. I don’t know what it is. It seems like every guy I’ve played with has been injured. Or they played with me and went up to the second line and got injured there."
When you were with the Hurricanes, did you ever go through this many linemates?
"Not quite that many, no. I think for the most part, I always had one or two guys that were pretty much consistent with all the time. Unfortunately, with injuries, there’s not much you can do about it this year. Not quite the situation I’ve been in before but we’ve got to keep going and try to find chemistry with someone."
When the team parted ways with Cooke and Kennedy, you probably expected to be breaking in some new linemates, but...
"Not quite like this. I think it started at the start year at practice with Jokinen and D’Agostini through camp. Then I played with Malkin and Neal. Then I was with Beau for a while and then he got hurt. Then D’Agostini got hurt in training camp. It’s been all over the place. It’s not how you envision it but it’s one of those things you can’t do much about."
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)