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Pens Practice: Brassard Defends His Work With Kessel



Derick Brassard/Michael Miller Photo

Maybe you are ready for the Pittsburgh Penguins to split up center Derick Brassard and right winger Phil Kessel, who have been part of the third line lately, along with Zach-Aston Reese.

Maybe you think there’s less chemistry between Brassard and Kessel than there is between hard-line Democrats and Republicans.

Maybe you think Kessel and second-line center Evgeni Malkin will rekindle things if they are reunited.

Sorry. The Penguins aren’t there, at least not in the near term.

At practice Monday at PPG Paints Arena, the Brassard line remained intact. That could be described as something of a surprise.

Asked about playing with Kessel, Brassard neither gushed nor grounded the idea, but he believes the two can be productive.

“Yeah, there’s chemistry,” he said. “We just have to make plays. It’s hard to score in this league five-on-five. You might have two or three chances in a game, and you just have to capitalize on them. We’re just going to try to do our best (Tuesday).”

The Penguins host the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday.

Neither Kessel nor Brassard registered a shot in a loss at Colorado last week. In Saturday’s loss to Philadelphia, Kessel had one and Brassard again had none.

Brassard has one point, a goal, in eight games since he returned from an undisclosed injury. He has no points his past six games. Kessel, who ranks third on the team with 28 points, has no points his past two games and no goals his past six.

The More Things Change…

Brassard might not exactly be lobbying hard for Kessel to remain on his line, but that might partly be because coach Mike Sullivan and his staff have done a lot of shuffling this season. Might make it hard to get too attached.

“We played, like, one or two games,” Brassard said. “The lines are always changing. There were some guys injured who came back. So when you say ‘my line’ yeah, for (Tuesday) it’s Phil and Zach. Who knows if we’re going to finish the game together? Who knows what’s going to happen in the future? I’m just going to focus on (Tuesday) and trying to make plays with those guys.”

Kessel and Malkin remained together more than any two players on the club for the first several weeks of the season.

Sullivan said despite making changes frequently, he is looking for chemistry to develop.

“There’s always a fine line,” the coach said. “We’re trying to find combinations that bring success. We’re trying to allow combinations to work through the process, and we’re also trying to evaluate whether or not it has potential to find traction.

“When’s the right time to split up a line, or when’s the right time to allow guys to stay together and work through things? I think that’s the coaches’ instinct, based on what we see. It’s something we discuss daily.

“It’s not like our coaching staff is hesitant to make change, because we’ve certainly made a fair amount, but it’s a matter of whether or not we think it’s the right thing to do at this time for the group.”

Brassard Not Thinking About Trade

Changes also can come in a bigger form – trades. General manager Jim Rutherford has expressed frustration with the 10-10-5 Penguins and swung a trade last month.

If more are on the horizon, could Brassard be one of the players available? Other than a couple isolated stretches, such as before he got hurt this season, he has not seemed to find his groove with the Penguins since being acquired in a trade last season.

“Honestly, I just try and focus on my play and coming here and practicing (each day). I don’t really focus on that,” Brassard said.

“I think this team is capable of winning. We’re aware that we’re .500, (and) it’s not something that we’re looking (for) as players and as a team. I’m pretty sure our GM doesn’t want to be managing a .500 team. We know we can be a lot better. We’re playing good games. We’re just making mistakes that this team in the past was not making.

“I’m just trying to focus personally on my game. I can’t really focus on what he’s going to do or if he’s going to try to help the team (by making a move). I know that our team is capable of beating any team. We just have to try to do it every night.”

Letang Misses Practice

Defenseman Kris Letang was the only unexpected absence at practice. Sullivan said Letang took a maintenance day. Chad Ruhwedel filled in for him with Brian Dumoulin.

Speaking of lines, little-used winger Daniel Sprong split some time with Tanner Pearson on Malkin’s left wing.

Before practice, goaltender Matt Murray skated with goalie coach Mike Buckley. Murray is out “longer term” because of a lower-body injury.

“That’s the first step to get him back with the team,” Sullivan said. “It’s a big step, and we’ll take each day as it comes, but certainly that’s encouraging (that) he’s getting close.”

Practice was at PPG Paints Arena rather than the practice facility in Cranberry because the team held its annual open practice for kids day, when thousands of school kids take a field trip to watch the team skate.


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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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