The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 5, 2014

Pens pick up pair of forwards

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t go for the big splash at the trade deadline this time.

General manager Ray Shero believes the little ripples his team made instead can be just as effective as the franchise pursues its fourth Stanley Cup.

The Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins acquired two-way forwards Marcel Goc from the Florida Panthers and Lee Stempniak from the Calgary Flames in exchange for draft picks after making a fruitless run at Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, who stayed with the Canucks.

“There wasn’t a deal there to be made,” Shero said. “I think our goal was to try to increase our depth up front and help our forward group ... and I think we’ve done that.”

A year ago the Penguins dominated the deadline, bringing in forwards Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen and Brendan Morrow along with defenseman Douglas Murray. All that star power, however, netted only a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Penguins find themselves with a comfortable lead in division with a month to go in the season.

Rather than part with any significant pieces, Pittsburgh opted to added depth along the third and fourth lines to help take some of the pressure off stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Goc had 11 goals and 12 assists in 62 games this season for the Panthers, and the 31-year-old Stempniak had five goals and 18 assists in 52 games with Calgary.

“I think that we’re comfortable with our team,” Crosby said. “We know we need to play better as a group. That’s up to us. That’s something we feel is important. But that being said, I think the guys we have are confident. These guys are going to provide a lot of depth for us. They’re good additions to our team.”

Pittsburgh sent a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft to Florida in exchange for Goc, while the Flames received a 2014 third-round pick for Stempniak.

The moves also allowed third-line center Brandon Sutter to relax. He was considered a significant piece of Pittsburgh’s pursuit of Kesler despite being a strong if somewhat inconsistent presence since joining the Penguins in a Draft Day trade in 2012.

“I’m just glad it’s done with,” Sutter said. “It’s a tough couple days when you’re not sure what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen ... obviously it’s nice to have it down now and I can just worry about playing again.”

The Penguins have the Eastern Conference’s best record and are fourth in the league in goals scored. The majority of that production, however, has come from Crosby, linemate Chris Kunitz along with Malkin and James Neal. Finding any kind of continuity along the third and fourth lines has been difficult due to a string of injuries that has forced Bylsma to juggle lineups relentlessly.

Bylsma said there’s “a chance” both Goc and Stempniak could be available on Thursday night when Pittsburgh plays at San Jose. While Shero stressed it will be up to coach Dan Bylsma to figure out where the new additions fit, he volunteered the added flexibility could allow Bylsma to pair Malkin and Crosby together in certain situations.

“Guys are familiar with playing different positions, both can score,” Crosby said. “I think the fact that they’re both pretty experienced helps the transition too. We’re excited to have them and we want to make sure that we’re coming together and we’re playing the right way here.”

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