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HB not OK...The Penguins 3rd line problem

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Last year's playoff darlings on the HBK line have become this year's headache for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

Last spring's darlings for the Penguins were the popular HBK line. Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel used their speed to torment 2nd and 3rd pairing defensemen who simply couldn't keep up. Nick Bonino was a capable puck-provider and found his way to the front of the net to score some of the biggest goals of the playoffs. The line was near unstoppable and a major factor in giving the rest of the NHL sweet chin music on the way to a championship.

This year....Not so much.

Check out the Super WOWY data for this season:

hbnotok117

The top line is all of them together, and woof. They have only scored 4 goals for in 200 minutes together, and conceded 8 against. Worse, their Corsi numbers are terrible (as is the shooting percentage of 3.88% in the few times they do get shots).

Fortunately, HBK's struggles haven't held down Kessel too much- the Penguins score 3.60 goals/60 (a truly elite figure) with Kessel away from both H&B and thanks mainly to the time away he still has the 4th most ES points on the team and with power play production he's among the league's scoring leaders. Quite impressive considering the struggles of his usual line and linemates.

The Pens even click at a 3.29 GF/60 rate with Hagelin away from B+K, but Bonino? Well, it's been a tough season for him, his numbers from an offensive perspective aren't impressive no matter how you slice it. In fact, they're pretty rough.

This is quite the departure from last season, even in the regular season in 144 minutes played down the stretch, HBK had an eye popping 12 GF (5.00 goals/60) and that doesn't capture their excellent playoffs as well.

All in all, this isn't a major issue - the Pens are #1 in the NHL right now with 128 even strength goals and #2 in PP goals and #1 overall in Goals For. They've had no problem filling the net with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin driving their lines to terrific production. That Pittsburgh has remained at the top of the goal scoring mountain with little-to-nothing from HBK speaks to how strong the team is offensively.

Having a functioning HBK line in the regular season is proving to be not all that important, though it certainly can be frustrating as they continue to sputter and not produce goals like in last night's 3-0 loss to St. Louis. If any and all three of them can step-up again come playoff time -- especially in a series where the production isn't at hot from 81 and/or 71 -- that would be the great equalizer and help the Penguins in what's shaping up to be a very difficult playoff road through the best division in the NHL. But if HBK stays quiet when needed the most, Pittsburgh's chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions will end in heartbreak.