Though he’s been around for two years, having Beau Bennett in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is a relative rarity. The young player has been plagued with injuries, most recently a hand/wrist injury (which he described as “fluky”) that required surgery and caused him to miss 50 games just this season.
Bennett’s most recent assignment was back to the Wilkes-Bare/Scranton Penguins for a two-game stint aimed at returning him to NHL-ready condition, and his time there earned him both an assist and praise from team GM Ray Shero. But with his return on Friday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets (only his 39th game in the NHL), Bennett made it clear not only why he was the first pick of the Penguins in the 2010 draft, but why he was more than ready to be back playing at NHL level.
Bennett returned to a slumping Penguins team who had lost their last three games all by one goal. They needed one more win to clinch a playoff spot, but that win eluded them. To add to their woes, they had just lost new acquisition Marcel Goc to an injury that would require three weeks of healing time. And a rested, ready-to-go Bennett turned out to be just what they needed.
The game against Columbus was tense, going scoreless for two and a half periods thanks to superb goaltending by both Marc-Andre Fleury and Curtis McElhinney. And then 10:35 into the third, Chris Kunitz broke the shutout and scored on a cross-ice pass from Sidney Crosby. Before Penguins fans were even done celebrating, 47 seconds later Bennett netted a goal in a 2-on-1 breakaway with Jussi Jokinen. That goal would turn out to be the game winner, as Blue Jackets late efforts only netted them a single goal from Matt Calvert on the powerplay. Bennett did not seem at all fatigued or out of shape after logging 14:51 of ice time, registering three shots on goal and four hits (tying him for second-most out of all the Penguins).
It’s unclear where Bennett would fit in on a perfectly healthy Pens lineup (though on the third line with Brandon Sutter seems like a good bet, or perhaps subbing in for the injured Pascal Dupuis on the first line), but one thing is clear – an injured Pens squad certainly needed a little ray of sunshine.