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Pens have no one to blame but themselves for inconsistent play

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The Penguins have regained a mostly healthy lineup, but have still played inconsistent.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

To the rational, intelligent Penguins fan (wherever they may be), inconsistent play has been the Penguins biggest enemy this year.

An inconsistent roster and line combinations, thanks largely in part to the slew of injuries, freak and otherwise, has kept the Penguins from establishing any sense of normalcy and rhythm with their teammates, and an inconsistent season from captain and Best Player In The World Sidney Crosby, no doubt due to some of  those same injuries to his teammates, has only exacerbated these inconsistencies.

The team and head coach Mike Johnston have been dealt a rotten hand this year as far as health is concerned.  But he hasn't made it any easier on himself either, specifically on his second line.

For a stretch of about 15-20 games, the Penguins really couldn't ice a legitimate top-six due to the absences of Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, Dupuis, and Beau Bennett.

Now, the Pens finally have six top-end forwards healthy to work with, but the same old problems keep popping up: a lack for true forward depth to complement Malkin and Crosby.

Specifically, Johnston's insistence in keeping a finally healthy Beau Bennett out of the lineup with some old-school tough love seems counter-productive at this point.

Don't get me wrong, I had no problem with healthy scratching him first against Edmonton and then against the Flames, a pair of below average teams that the Penguins should have and did beat handily without #19 in the lineup.

But keeping him in the press box against a legitimate Vancouver team?  Not so much.

Before, injuries prevented Johnston from icing a competitive lineup against quality teams.  Now, he seems to be doing it by choice.

Bennett, who has just two points in his last ten games played, isn't exactly lighting the world on fire at the moment, but he's a top-six talent that hasn't received enough looks in the top-six to be effective.

Maybe it's because the Penguins haven't drafted and developed a quality forward outside of generational talents Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal in over ten years, but it doesn't take a genius to see that the situation with Bennett is nearing it's critical point.

A healthy scratch or two followed by a redemption start on Makin's wing? Sign me up.  But three in a row coupled with third-line duties on Brandon Sutter's right side would probably keep most young forwards from developing properly.

Johnston has played mad-scientist with his lines all season, and while it was understandable before, it's bizarre, given the current circumstances.

If you see Beau Bennett as a legit solution to one of the top-six holes in your forward group (which the organization apparently does), wouldn't you want to get him as much consistent playing time with Malkin or Crosby as possible?

If not even for Bennett's sake, but for the sake of two players who value chemistry as much as #87 and #71 apparently do?

Comeau nearing return will provide a boost no doubt, but only if he's used in the right way.  Playing him with Malkin while Bennett toils on the third line seems counter-productive to the skill sets of both players.

While he was solid on the second line before he got hurt (7-5-12 with Geno), but was brought in to provide quality depth to the third and fourth lines, and that's where the Penguins need him the most when he returns.  He provides more to the team as a solid, reliable, third-line winger than he does a fringe top-six winger.

At this point, consistent lineups and match ups should be Pittsburgh's main priority.   They can't help the injuries, but they can make it easier on their players that are still healthy.

Bennett's ceiling is as a play-making winger that can slot in on the top two lines, but to this point he hasn't been given more than six or seven games at a time to acclimate himself to that role for various reasons.

If the Penguins are to have any chance come playoffs, consistent roles need to start being filled now.

That means no more Marc Acrobello on Malkin's wing while #19 sits in the press box, and that means a healthy Blake Comeau returning to a third line with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter, the teams best hope to return the depth they had when healthy.

A consistent top six of Perron-Crosby-Hornqvist and Kunitz-Malkin-Bennett is not perfect, but if filled out with the right supporting cast it could be more than adequate, the key word being right.

Zach Sill's omnipresent status in the lineup means that Johnston either likes what he's gotten out of Sill so far or still thinks he can still squeeze more out of him.  Either way, good luck with that. For someone who was brought in to intimidate and hit, he does little of both.

A "skilled fourth line with grit" is ultimately when that Penguins are after, the problem is that "skill" seems to be all but an afterthought after the trade of center Marcel Goc to St. Louis.

The Penguins have got some real thinking to do as far as who they think they can win with going forward, and the sooner you find that mix, the better.