With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the two leading scorers in the NHL this season, offense as a whole has not been an issue for the Penguins this season.
What has been an issue has been where that offense is coming from. Or more accurately, where it's not.
The Penguins' top two lines have produced at a healthy clip most of the as evidenced by the offensive numbers of Crosby and Malkin. And even the fourth line, primarily composed of Craig Adams, Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale, has chipped in an occasional goal.
The third line has been another matter. Brandon Sutter has been been the most "explosive" offensive weapon on that line with five goals. It's been a revolving door on his wings this season however with the likes of Beau Bennett, Jussi Jokinen, Matt D'Agostini, Jayson Megna and others each getting a chances to flank Sutter.
For the past four games, Sutter has been working with Chris Conner and Andrew Ebbett, each recently recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While, the results have hardly been earth shattering as they have only combined for one goal in five-on-five play but they have combined for nine shots on net overall in the span of four games. Beyond statistics, the trio has displayed a lot more chemistry to the naked eye than any other combination used this season on the third line.
Earlier this week, Sutter talked about his new line.
How have things worked out for you three on this line?
"The first game, I thought we were really good. I thought we really forechecked well. The game in Tampa, I thought we pretty good for that. In Florida, I didn’t think we had the same jump. We spent some time in our own zone. Defensively, we’ve played strong, even when we’ve been in our own end. They’re smart guys. I think our strength is going to be out forechecking ability. Our first game, I think we probably [stole] about 10 pucks and turned them into offensive chances. That’s the kind of line we want to be. They’re quick guys that can create offense and be fun to play with. I like that they can forecheck and bring the speed up ice."
What has clicked for you three?
For me, it’s consistency. You want to be consistent in both ends of the rink. Obviously, it’s defense first and try to prevent goals. At the same, we need guys like those who can forecheck and create offense like that. The first game against Toronto, I think we played the whole game in the other team’s zone and we didn’t have to play defense. That’s probably the best way to do.
What happened on the goal Conner scored against the Maple Leafs Wednesday? All three of you were involved.
That’s the first shift together and that’s the way we want to play right there. We got a puck in behind their [defense]. We forechecked well. The puck went side to side a couple of times and we supported each other. We ended up just getting a break. I think we got a bounce or something and two guys went to [Ebbett] and he slid it through to [Conner]. I think that’s what happens when work. You create confusion down there. We were quick in the corner. That’s the brand we want to play.
What's been the key to success with this trio compared to other combinations used on the third line this season?
"I think the speed aspect of it is pretty big. I think the forecheck aspect has been pretty big. They’re two quick guys who forecheck hard and that’s really been were we’ve been getting our chances and chemistry from. As long as you get a forecheck, establish a forecheck and create some turnovers, I think as a line that’s expected to play a two-way game, that’s where you really find success is when you’re playing in their end."
What's a quick scouting report on Conner?
"Speed and his work on the walls and the corners. He’s quick and shifty. For a little guy, he’s hard to hit off the puck. He’s strong. He’s created offense in his career off coming out of corner and banging guys in the corners. You obviously don’t expect from a guy of his size but he plays it well."
"Kind of similar in that sense. A little more shifty I think. He’s pretty creative with the puck. I think [Ebbett] definitely has a good passing ability to him. He’s definitely a playmaker and it goes well with how me an [Conner] play."
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)