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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Second Line Stepping Up by @SpinMeWrite

With Evgeni Malkin sidelined for the rest of the year, many wondered if the Penguins were capable of making a playoff run without him. As @Nick422 pointed out, the Pens are going to need scoring production from all the players not named Sidney Crosby, especially Phil Kessel. Though Kessel hasn't been a total bust with 21 goals and 47 points, Pens fans expected more production from a guy who was able to score 25 goals with lowly Toronto last season.

I don't know if Mike Sullivan had a talk with him or Phil got fed up with the fans chirping, but he's stepped up big time over the last couple of games. The second line, now centered by Nick Bonino, had six points in the game against Carolina on Thursday, with goals from Bonino and Kessel. Kessel wasn't on score sheet today against the Flyers, but there was no question that he generated a huge turnover that led to a Carl Hagelin goal with an assist by Bonino.

"I thought that was a big part of the game and when Phil engages like that-- he's a big body, he's strong-- he's hard to play against. I thought he made the whole play," Sullivan said after the game. "I thought it was a terrific play all around, but I thought Phil made the whole play as far as creating that turnover."

Bonino has been another source of frustration for Pens fans. He was acquired from Vancouver more for his penalty killing and face-off abilities, his offensive production has been abysmal most of the season. Many were left scratching their heads when Bonino was plugged in as the second line center when Matt Cullen had most recently occupied that spot when Malkin was out.

I was really rooting for Bonino when he joined the second line. I was willing to attribute his early struggles to Johnston (I give the whole team a pass there) and the parade of different wingers on his line. But for the first few games that line was bleak. They were struggling offensively AND defensively. Now that they have a few games under their belt, that line is starting to click as they become more comfortable with each other.

There's no need to talk about Hagelin and his speed, because we all know he's always a magical ice unicorn.

Someone flipped Kessel's switch on because I've never seen him play a complete game like that, meaning his forecheck and backcheck were strong, and he was playing the boards hard. The way the second line and the whole team has been playing, a playoff run isn't a possibility, it's inevitable.

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