Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Still in the Hunt Penguins' Most Pressing Need Remains No. 3 Center

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Still in the Hunt Penguins' Most Pressing Need Remains No. 3 Center

Article excerpt

(Part 1 of 2)

It could be much, much worse for the Penguins.

They could be preparing to enter the stretch drive and, they hope, the Stanley Cup playoffs, without a true No. 1 center.

Given that Sidney Crosby is on the payroll and healthy, that isn't a concern.

Or perhaps they could desperately be seeking someone to play in the middle of the second line, a guy who can ensure that unit adds a volatile dimension to the offense.

Thanks to Evgeni Malkin, that's a nonissue, too.

But as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches and general manager Jim Rutherford tries to bolster his lineup for a run at a third consecutive Stanley Cup - a feat no NHL team has managed since the New York Islanders won four in a row in 1980-83 - the search for a quality third-line center not only continues, but should intensify.

It began when management realized it would be unable to keep Nick Bonino, who signed with Nashville as a free agent in July, and hasn't really let up much since.

Oh, the Penguins have gotten decent contributions from some of the players plugged into that role so far this season, but no one has staked a real claim to the job. Or seems likely to anytime soon.

Perhaps that's because the skill set it generally requires isn't all that common, even if there's nothing spectacular about it. While the ideal No. 3 center doesn't have to challenge for a scoring title or own a closet full of Selke trophies as the NHL's top defensive forward, he has to be reliable and productive at both ends.

"What we like in a third-line center is a guy who has a strong two-way game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Who's dependable and reliable defensively, that we can use in defensive scenarios if we need to, and has the ability to kill penalties, but also has an offensive dimension to his game.

"With our team in particular, with a third-line center who has an offensive dimension to his game, it helps us spread our talent and create more balance through our lineup, that I think makes our team harder to play against. …

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