‘Smart player’ Cullen has been a fit with Malkin and Kessel

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Chemistry can be a tough thing to predict. We’ve seen it time and time again in the NHL. A player that’s supposedly a good fit with another player just isn’t.

And then there are the cases of vice-versa.

For example, Matt Cullen. He’s 39 years old. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed him in August to a one-year, $800,000 deal. “He will play an important role on our fourth line,” said GM Jim Rutherford at the time.

And yet where is Cullen today? He’s playing left wing on the second line with two of the highest-paid players in the game, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

“Matt’s just a guy that’s a smart player,” coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s played with offensive guys in his career. I think because he’s responsible in all three zones, and the way he plays, and he still has the ability to think the game on their level. I think he can help that line. And so far it’s been pretty good.”

In Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders, Cullen didn’t look out of place assisting on the game’s opening goal by Kessel.

That being said, he knows this could just be a temporary thing.

“You know there’s so many ups and downs to the season, things change a lot,” he said. “It’s fun to be here where I am, but the biggest thing is that we’re winning games.”

The Penguins  — 4-1-1 in their last six — host the Blackhawks tonight before tomorrow’s rematch in Chicago (on NBCSN).