PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Kennedy knew it was time to move on from the Penguins organization when he was a healthy scratch for six of 15 playoff games last spring.
Now, he’s back in the town where he spent the first six years of his NHL career, as the Sharks practiced at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday where they will face the powerful Penguins on Thursday night.
“It’s kind of, definitely, a little bit of an emotional roller coaster,” said Kennedy, who was at one point part of an effective third line here with Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke. “I was here for six years, and it was a great six years. I think I really grew as a person, and as a player. Pittsburgh was like a second home to me. It means a lot to be back here.”
Kennedy was not surprised when he was traded to the Sharks in the offseason, relaying that head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero were up front with him in the player meetings that took place after the Penguins lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
Still, his pride may have taken a bit of a hit in his final days with the Penguins.
“Obviously, not playing kind of hurts you, but you’ve got to remember who you are and you know how to play hockey,” Kennedy said. “It was frustrating when I was sitting out, but that was their decision and obviously it’s something they had to stand by. I’ve obviously moved on. Tomorrow is a new day, just like back then. There [are] no hard feelings.”
Fortunately for the 27-year-old, he’s gone from one team with a recent tradition of excellence, to another, in the Sharks. The Sharks have won their last six games, and are at the top of the NHL standings in terms of winning percentage (.793, 19-3-5, 43 points). The 19-9-1 Penguins lead the Eastern Conference with 39 points.
“I think I’ve been really fortunate to go to another great team and another great coaching staff,” Kennedy said. “There’s a lot of comparisons from San Jose to Pittsburgh. I’ve been really fortunate in my career.”
Kennedy has played in all 27 of the Sharks’ games this year, with three goals and eight assists for 11 points. He’s now playing on a line with Joe Pavelski and Marty Havlat.
He’s scoreless in his last three games, but had a four-game point streak just prior to that.
“I really believe he’s starting to feel comfortable now with our team,” Todd McLellan said.
Kennedy said: “I think it took me a little bit of time to get used to the Western style. I wouldn’t say bang and crash, but it’s a little more physical, I find. I’m really happy in San Jose, and I couldn’t ask for a better spot to be.”
The addition of Kennedy was one of the few changes the Sharks made to their team in the offseason. After finishing the regular season strong and taking the Kings to seven games in the second round, San Jose’s goal was to build on its identity of a hard, fast, straight line team.
Kennedy, a speedy, tenacious player that likes to shoot the puck, fit that mold in general manager Doug Wilson’s eyes. Wilson sent a second round pick to the Penguins in exchange for the rights to Kennedy, and then promptly signed him to a two-year, $4.7 million contract.
Pavelski said: “He plays in straight lines for the most part, shoots it pretty hard, and he’s a gritty player. He isn’t afraid to fight, and kind of get in there and stir it up a little bit. It’s definitely the trend of where this team has been going.”
“I know the guys appreciate his effort night in and night out, and we do as a staff, for sure,” McLellan said.
Kennedy was asked about a now infamous picture among Pittsburgh fans, in which he and teammates Staal, Alex Goligoski and Max Talbot posed with pop star Taylor Swift in 2009. None of them remain with the Penguins.
“I don’t think I’ll be going to any concerts in San Jose with Taylor Swift,” Kennedy said with a smile.
Joking aside, Kennedy is already looking forward to Thursday’s game between two of the best teams in the league.
“I think (my teammates) know (the Penguins) are a great team, and it’s a great test for us, coming out of the West. I think we’re one of the best teams coming out of the West. It’s a great challenge for us, and we’re excited about it.”