Tag Archives: Bryan Rust

Quickly Shaking Off The Rust

The Penguins are six games into the brand new season and they’ve already seen a roller coaster of results. One constant, though, has been the play of forward Bryan Rust.

Through the first six games, Rust has recorded eight points. He is tied with Sidney Crosby for a team high. Anytime your name is tied to Crosby’s, you are in pretty good company.

The only game Rust did not record a point in was the Chicago game. Not many people did in that contest.

It is shocking enough that Rust is scoring points at a rapid rate that is sure to slow down eventually. Perhaps, the even better part is that he is doing the things that don’t show up on the score sheet.

It’s tough to compare any ones speed to that of Carl Hagelin. Personally, I think Rust compares quite aptly, if not, might even be faster than Hagelin. Of course, Rust has a bit more scoring touch than Hagelin. But seeing Rust beat defenders outside who don’t have the chance to match his speed is something of a blessing.

I can count many times last season that he’d be in on a breakaway but could never finish. I am truthfully seeing a different player this time around.

Rust looks more complete on the ice. He might’ve even gotten a step faster. I see more willingness to shoot the puck and I see a much more methodical passer than in the previous two seasons. He just looks like he worked hard on the areas of his game that needed a bit of refining.

Playing in a top-6 role, Rust will be called upon to score frequently. He had 15 goals last season playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin and Crosby during the regular season. He only played 57 regular season games, though. He saw more time with Hagelin and Nick Bonino in last postseasons run. This season, he’s already seen time with both superstars.

Rust is going to be a key piece for the Penguins this season. If he stays healthy and plays upwards of 70 games, it’s fair to say he will score 20 goals and post 45 or more points. Keep your eye on him. Even if he isn’t putting up the points this consistently in December, watch for the little things like his speed and his willingness to win a puck battle in the corner. Those are things that don’t fade throughout a breakout  year.

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Bryan Rust, A Third Line Center?

The problem that’ll plague fans the most over the course of the season is the undesirable wait for the Penguins to acquire a third line center.

More elite names like Matt Duchene and Jordan Staal have been thrown around. Lesser priced and less prestigious names have also been thrown into the rumor mill. Regardless, general manager Jim Rutherford won’t make a move unless he believes it betters his team.

So, why not just use Bryan Rust in that role?

I know what you’re thinking. That’s boring and that trades are always more fun. That doesn’t mean they’re more beneficial.

Everyone keeps talking about the plethora of wingers the Penguins have, not only on the NHL roster, but down in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.

Guys like Tom Kuhnhackl and Scott Wilson were rotated in and out of the playoff lineup last season. Those are legit bottom six forwards. They acquired another winger, Ryan Reaves, for Oskar Sundqvist and a first round pick. Reaves wasn’t acquired for cheap so he’ll be in the Penguins lineup when he’s healthy. Guys like Daniel Sprong and Zach-Aston Reese are just about ready to join the NHL team.

What benefit does adding an outside player to the club have at the current moment?

The Penguins only winger lost in free agency was left winger Chris Kunitz. They just resigned Conor Sheary to an extension. Reaves, in a sense, is Kunitz’s replacement to an already crowded winger corps.

Moving Rust would open a spot on the wings for one of the Penguins’ young studs in Sprong and Aston-Reese. That’s an exciting thought for many fans as they’re itching to see what they can do at the NHL level.

Rust is a natural center so it’s not like they’d be throwing Joe-Schmoe to the wolves. He can capably handle the role. As big of a Carter Rowney fan as I am, he’s not quite ready to assume the third center role. And even if he is, that would likely force Dominik Simon into the fourth line center role. That isn’t terrible, but it hinders their depth.

The Penguins just repeated as Stanley Cup champions. While they lost a lot of key contributors, the Penguins still have one of the strongest cores in the league. They’ve got enough depth that their lack of centers won’t hinder them in the regular season. They’d have until March to strike a deal for a third line center if they felt it necessary. As Rutherford said, he’d be comfortable making a deal for the right price. But, he’s also comfortable with the “internal options”, whomever they may be.

Start the campaign: Bryan Rust for third-line center.

Unsung Heroes

Overtime, Game 7; these are the games as hockey fans we love. Thursday night, the Penguins defeated the Senators 3-2 in double overtime to clinch their bid to the Stanley Cup Finals vs the Nashville Predators. The game winning goal coming from 37-year-old Chris Kunitz, which was his second goal of the night. This entire playoff, and regular season has been filled with unsung heroes. Yes, we have the three-headed monster in Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel leading the way in playoff points. But there are a few guys pulling some of their own weight. Names that stand out are Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin.

 

Jake Guentzel- 2016-17 Regular Season– 40 GP | 16 G | 17 A       2016-17 Playoffs– 19 GP | 9 G | 7 A

What an amazing rookie campaign Jake has put together. Those who watched Jake play in WBS before being called up knew the type of impact he could have in the NHL, and what an impact he has made. Some may ask why he made this list of surprise players these playoffs, but I don’t think anyone expected a player with 40 NHL games to be in the top 5 of playoff scoring. Not to mention 3 GWG this postseason.

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Chris Kunitz- 2016-17 Regular Season- 71 GP | 9 G | 20 A |         2016-17 Playoffs- 14 GP| 2 G| 3 A |     

Chris Kunitz, what a guy. This is a player that Penguins fans have wanted to be dealt out of town for the last three years at least, and I am guilty of criticizing him as well. But with Kuntiz you know what type of player you are going to get. He’s the type of guy to battle in front of the net, finish his checks, and hey, even score goals when reunited with Crosby. Kuntiz has scored the most important goal of these playoffs so far (2OT ECF) so how could he not be a hero?

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Bryan Rust- 2016-17 Regular Season- 40 GP | 12 G | 4 A |            2016-17 Playoffs- 17 GP | 6 A | 1 A |

Rust is a player that really emerged last season when the Pens were faced with injuries and he made a similar impact that Guentzel is making this year. Rust is another guy that will finish his hit and grind in front of the net, but also comes up with some very timely goals. This post season, Rust has 2 GWG those goals being Game 5 vs CBJ, and game 7 vs Washington. Rust plays big in big games, so keep an eye out for him the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Olli Maatta2016-17 Regular Season- 55 GP| 1 G | 6 A |              2016-17 Playoffs19 GP | 2 G | 5 A |

Maatta has been criticized time and time again, and granted he has not been the player the Penguins expected, he has held his own. Some unfortunate injuries have slowed Maatta’s growth, but minor things such as foot speed seem to be an issue for him. To Maatta’s credit he has played well this season, especially vs the Sens. Scoring two goals in as many games, and one being a GWG in the 7-0 victory, Maatta seems to be finding his way as of late.

 Image result for olli maatta 2017

Honorable Mention: Brian Dumoulin- Dumo gets my honorable mention for this list. Next to Ian Cole, he may be the best defensive defenseman the Pens have. Logging 20+ minutes in almost every playoff game, he is faced with the task of shutting down teams’ top offensive lines. He is a valuable player to this Pens roster that often goes under the radar.

Image result for brian dumoulin playoff

This Penguins team is filled with superstars as we all know, but there are a ton of depth/role players that are just as important as Crosby or Malkin are. Role players play a key part in winning teams, and the Penguins have built their team using high end role guys. They played a huge part in the 2016 Stanley Cup Run, and will again be a key factor in the 2017 Stanley Cup run.

Series Analysis: Pens Top Caps in 7

Wow.  The Penguins did it again.

And should we even really be shocked any more?

On the 1 year anniversary of the Nick Bonino overtime winner against the Capitals last year in game 6, the Penguins once again beat their division rival to move on to the next round.  Although this time, it took 7 games.  Going into the game, many Penguins fans thought that the Caps were going to end it.  I knew that if any team was going to pull off this win, it would be the Penguins, but I really didn’t think they actually would.

Well until they did, of course.

Marc-Andre Fleury pitched a shutout, which adds to this story-book ending of the series, as the Penguins knock the Capitals out of the playoffs with a 2-0 win in Washington, and now hold a 9-1 lead in the series against the Caps.

Let’s make this clear: A Penguins’ team that was clearly concerned about losing Kris Letang for 1 game against the Capitals last year just took out the President’s Trophy winners without him.

And Matt Murray

And a banged up D-core…

Oh yeah, and they played almost 2 games without Conor Sheary and Sidney Crosby!

Not to mention that this was a Capitals team that remained healthy all year, were healthy in the playoffs, dealt for Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, and were once again the clear favorites to finally lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Until they ran into the Penguins.  Again.

The Penguins were outplayed for the majority of this series, but they found ways to win hockey games, 4 out of 7 to be exact, against an extremely talented hockey team.  So, how did the Penguins pull it off, despite blowing a 3-1 series lead and having to go back to Washington for a do-or-die game 7?  Here is my series analysis, which includes 5 main reasons as to why the Penguins were able to emerge victorious, once again:

Marc-Andre Fleury > Braden Holtby

The Capitals needed Braden Holtby to be…well…Braden Holtby if they were going to beat the Penguins in these 2017 playoffs.  In fact, they simply needed Holtby to be the better goaltender between him and Fleury.  Unfortunately, for the Capitals, this was not the case.

The Penguins generated some decent chances throughout the series, but not once outshot the Capitals in a single game.  Holtby did not have to stop a ton of pucks, so one would think that he would have had the edge over Fleury.

Well, he may have.  But the stats indicate otherwise.

Holtby had an abysmal .887 save percentage (17 goals on 151 shots), compared to his .925 save percentage in the regular season, good enough for the former Vezina winner to be yet another nominee to win the trophy for the 2016-17 year as the NHL’s top goaltender. However, it was the Penguins’ goaltender, Fleury, that looked like the Vezina Trophy nominee in this series.

Fleury kept his hot play from round 1 going into round 2, and put up a .921 save percentage (18 goals on 227 shots) in this series, including a shutout in game 7.   Although a .921 save percentage is quite good, I still do not think it even comes close to describing how well he played in this series and how many absolutely unbelievable stops he made.  One, in particular, comes to mind:

Without their top defenseman Letang, the Penguins will need him to continue to be their best player if they want a chance at moving on.  Fleury seems up to the task, as he holds a .927 save percentage in these playoffs.  If he can keep up these kind of stats behind a dangerous Penguins’ offense that leads the NHL in playoff scoring…they just might have a chance.

Penguins’ Stars > Capitals’ Stars

Simply put, throughout the series, the Penguins star players stepped up to the plate.  The Capitals’ stars didn’t, especially when they needed it most in game 7.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was, in my opinion, the Capitals’ best player this series.  He needed to be a factor if the Capitals were to win this series, but he should not have been their best player…

Alexander Ovechkin had a few goals, sure, but none of them were game-changers.  He made mistakes in his defensive zone that cost his team goals more often than not, and played in a 3rd line in the final 3 games of the series, receiving less ice time than 6 other Capitals’ forwards in game 7.

Nick Backstrom had his moments, but didn’t really stick out at all to me.

TJ Oshie was largely just kind of there for this series.  He generated chances and was often causing mayhem in front of the net, but he did not contribute much offensively.

Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7 himself, was “out-Mr.-Game-7-ed” by Penguins’ forward Bryan Rust, and was largely invisible for the entire series.

John Carlson was…wait, who is he?

On the Penguins side, Crosby was about as good as it gets when he was healthy. Evgeni Malkin didn’t play his best hockey throughout the series but generated good chances, put up decent stats, and stepped up when Sid was out. Phil Kessel scored a few important goals for the Pens and continued to impress in the playoffs. Jake Guentzel continued his production and still leads the NHL playoffs in goal scoring. Nick Bonino came in clutch again in game 1 to give the Penguins the win.  And somehow, someway, Rust scored again and leaves Washington, DC with another elimination game game-winning goal in his back pocket.

Simply put: the Penguins’ big named guys outplayed the Capitals’ big named guys when it mattered most.  Period.

Quick Strike Ability

For the majority of this series, the Penguins were badly outplayed.  Ironically, one of their better games, game 3, was one of the games they would lose.  Regardless, the Penguins truly were not the better team for probably 80% of this series.

They were outshot 227-151, and often times the Capitals were able to have multiple shifts in a game where they would have the Penguins completely pinned in their zone.  The Penguins were not able to do this often to the Capitals.  And yet, they were able to win the series.

I think this was mainly due to the Penguins quick strike ability.  It seemed as though many of the Penguins goals came after an extended shift for Washington when it seemed like they were going to get a goal.  All of the sudden, someone has a breakaway or the Penguins have a 3 on 2 the other way and score.

The Penguins shooting percentage was 11.26% in this series, which is incredibly high.  I really do not think Holtby played an awful series.  His stats were not good at all, but I honestly think the Penguins simply scored at will when they needed to and generated high-danger scoring chances and capitalized, unlike the Caps.

The Penguins Are In Their Heads

The Penguins own a 9-1 series lead over the Washington Capitals, and Ovechkin has yet to see an Eastern Conference Final.  Oh, and every Stanley Cup the Penguins’ have won in the Crosby era involve the Penguins going through Washington.

Need I say more?

Mike Sullivan

The Penguins, somehow, took a 3-1 series lead into game 5, but it certainly did not feel like a 3-1 series lead.  The Penguins even took a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period of game 5, before allowing 3 goals in the 3rd and losing 4-2.  The Penguins then came back home for a game 6 with another chance to wipe out the Capitals, and were just straight up man-handled.  The Caps put up 5 straight goals to open the scoring, and the Pens would lose 5-2 as Guentzel and Malkin put up meaningless tallies in the games’ waning minutes.

The series then shifted to Washington for game 7, and it just screamed 2010 Eastern Conference Finals against the Canadiens all over again.  The Penguins had the 3-1 lead coming off of a Cup win the previous year, but just became too fatigued and did not have the drive, heart, or energy to finish it off.

Except the guy behind the bench isn’t Michel Therrien or Dan Bylsma.

Sullivan and his coaching staff should receive a ton of credit for this game 7 win and series win.  The Penguins, after being dominated at home in embarrassing fashion, had a practice that was almost entirely X’s and O’s, as stated by multiple sites/sources.  The coaching staff knew what they needed to adjust against Washington, and clearly, they pushed the right buttons, as the 2-0 final game 7 score indicated.  Sullivan said after the game that this was the best game for the Penguins this postseason, and it’s hard to disagree.

This team felt the pressure of game 7, but they fed off of it, rather than let it get to them like this team had in the past, and I attribute that to Mike Sullivan.  He has changed this team and their mindset, and makes it extremely difficult to ever count these Penguins out.

Sullivan is now 6-0 in playoff series as the Penguins’ head coach, and you can bet he wants to be 8-0 after this year.

He’s not done, and these Penguins aren’t done either…

Bring it on, Ottawa.

Penguins Pass The Adversity Test

It’s not all gonna be rainbows and sunny days out there ladies and gentleman.

While it may have looked like that so far being up 3-0, it’s still definitely not over until that 4th win has been had. It was nice though for the Penguins to face a little adversity in how they came about winning game 3 in Columbus.

The playoffs are horrendously rough at times, if you don’t think so just take a look at Zach Wewrenki’s face after he blocked Phil Kessel’s shot.

Games 1 and 2 weren’t a breeze but they for sure weren’t the toughest battles that have been fought out there on the ice. There will be tougher paths ahead, sometimes when the plans been to nice for you, its tough to find your game again after you get punched in the mouth. Finally faced with the slightest of adversity, the Pens showed that they know how to surpass that and not tail into negatives.

That opening punch happened 11 seconds into the game. The Penguins tied it up shortly after: That’s adversity.

Down 3-1 after the 1st with a rocking building abundantly against them, they were all square at 3 one the 2nd period horn sounded. That’s passing a test of adversity.

Even when grabbing the lead an unfortunate bounce that should have been a stoppage play lead to the Blue Jackets tying it up did they crumble? No, in fact the youngest of talent on this team lead them through.

The start of the series was wonderful but that’s not how playoff hockey goes, it’s just not. Pittsburgh wasn’t behind in the score until 3 games, but the Penguins now know that any lead is able to come back.

Not every matchup will go there way, people will struggle and puck luck won’t be in their corner all the time. You gotta learn how to roll with the punches and overcome difficult flurries, the Pens showed that last game and I think that won’t be the last we see their resiliency.

The Penguins can gut it out anywhere and get the garbage dirty goals. Though they’re a team that can make highlights, not every goal will be sexy. Numerous guys will need to be the hero 1 night make a positive impact, we viewed this with a Jake Guentzel hat trick.

Willingness to win and put in all you have leads to the victory of attrition, I’m talking Marc-Andre Fluery making head saves and Bryan Rust continuing playoff acceleration of the largest level. Everyone player on the roster has it in them.

Test 1 of adversity was passed but were only on the opening page, there is more. Now they to show a killer mentality and put away Columbus now. The Pens have their hands around the opponent’s throats now you just have to crush it and send them on their way. Like Kevin Nealon’s character talking to Happy Gilmore, “you’re almost there, now just put the ball in it’s home”. The Penguins could always use rest, how sweep would it be to get that by winning now in the 4th game.

A Depth Decision

Any team who wins a Stanley Cup will do it with depth. Going back on previous Stanley Cup winners over the past ten years, most had the depth to outwork the other team beyond their first two lines.

The beautiful thing about depth is that you don’t need to have star players filling up three lines. Hell, the Penguins proved that last year more predominantly than any of the preceding Cup champions in recent memory.

The Pens rolled a third line consisting of ‘HBK’, or Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel. Obviously Kessel is one of the more premier scoring talents throughout the NHL. But Hagelin and Bonino are just mere role players. Hagelin doesn’t have elite scoring, but he uses his speed to beat teams. Bonino is a guy who wins faceoffs at an exceptional rate and blocks shots at will but still can also thrive if you temper expectations for 10-15 goals out of him.

The fourth line had a 39 year old center who still plays like the prime days of his rather lengthy career in Matt Cullen.

Having depth can never be a bad thing, until it can. And in the Penguins case, I guess it really isn’t even a bad thing.

All things considered with how the Penguins are playing, they face a nightly decision whether to play a guy like Tom Sestito against the tougher, more physical teams because the Penguins aren’t going to outmuscle any team in the NHL.

Or turn to a guy like Tom Kuhnhackl who prides himself on playing a defensive game. He’s nothing too flashy, but he represents something the Penguins lack without him in the lineup. The first forward you want in your defensive zone, but the last one you’d think could contribute in the offensive zone.

Soon, depth becomes a real issue for the Penguins. With Conor Sheary now back from injury, he regained his spot in the lineup pushing out both Sestito and Kuhnhackl. The latter have both proven they could be capable fourth line NHL’ers.

The Penguins were once believed to have a farm system that couldn’t replenish their NHL team. They won a Cup because of that same farm system.

It’s not like Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, and Scott Wilson grew off a tree.

Guys like Jake Guentzel, who is in the AHL, and David Warsofsky, who is a consistent healthy scratch, are NHL caliber players. Warsofsky has proven he can log NHL minutes on a team’s blue line. Whether that be for Pittsburgh or Ray Shero in New Jersey (*sigh*), he’s done it.

Guentzel has a hell of a shot and the Penguins could truthfully be employing him right now. But there just isn’t room.

And what about that Sprong guy that everyone is so hyped about? You know, the one who played about five minutes a game under Mike Johnston? For lord’s sake, Tom Sestito logs more minutes under Mike Sullivan.

But Sprong was the Penguins second round pick last year and as we saw against the Ottawa Senators when he scored on Craig Anderson, his release and shot is just lethal.

The Pens have a surplus of young talent. But what do they do with it?

They can’t trade it away because it would then insert another NHL ready player into the lineup and knock out yet another talented youngster, something the Penguins already have to deal with. They can’t leave it sitting in the AHL because what good is that going to do letting an NHL ready talent tear apart mediocre AHL goaltending?

What will be done remains to be seen. Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford have a plan. They always do. I’m not worried about how it will shake out, I just want to see what they plan to do and how they plan to do it.

Crosby, Penguins Making The Most Out of Concussion Situation

When the news first came out that Sidney Crosby had once again been diagnosed with a concussion after a few years of successfully avoiding injuries that had once threatened to put a complete stop to the superstar’s career, it sent a chill down the spines of not only Penguins fans but the entire hockey world. With Crosby about to enter the new NHL season right after playing some of the best hockey of his career during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and World Cup of Hockey, the news that he was suddenly on the shelf was not pleasant to hear.

Fortunately, since then, it has become clear that the concussion is minor, let alone looking to be much less of a problem than the concussions he dealt with in the past. Once the initial smoke had cleared and the situation had cooled, both Crosby and the Penguins had to focus on their separate jobs until recovery was over. They each have had to make the most out of the situation and figure out a way to work it to their advantage.

For Crosby, the fact that this newest concussion appears to be very minor has meant that he has not put a stop to training and is preparing as much as he can for the moment when he can rejoin the team. He has taken the ice for several consecutive days, and from the short clips of footage that have surfaced of his brief practices, I have to say he’s looking to be in pretty good form. I mean, look at the on-ice greeting he gave to the Pens’ newest pickup, goalie Mike Condon:

Damn. That shot’s looking pretty good.

It occurs to me that maybe Crosby can only be benefiting from all this extra time to practice and prepare for his new Penguins season to start. As it is, the entire Pens squad had a shorter offseason than the rest of the league, as is always the case for the Stanley Cup Champions. Their season ran all the way until almost mid-June, and the players got a very short time off to relax before they had to resume training. This offseason was even shorter for some players thanks to the World Cup of Hockey 2016, in which six Penguins players including Crosby participated. Here’s where Crosby individually really had less rest than his teammates. Of all the Penguins representatives at the World Cup, only Crosby reached the final, meaning that the rest of his teammates got to end their action in the tournament and focus on Penguins hockey earlier than he did. And he was pretty involved in Canada’s run to being tournament champions, too – he finished with more points than any other player, was center of the best line in the entire tournament, and ended up receiving MVP honors.

The Penguins knew he needed his rest when he returned to Pittsburgh, too. They gave him a short little break before he rejoined the team on the ice. He was set to only play in the Pens’ final preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the game was a day after the practice which resulted in the concussion, meaning that Crosby sat out because he wasn’t feeling well and ended up being diagnosed a few days later.

So with such a tiring and not very restful offseason, with Crosby having so little time to turn his focus to Penguins hockey and train for a bid at repeating as Stanley Cup Champions, maybe you can look at it as a good thing that he now has a few days to make sure he’s in good form and ready to lead his team. Sid will obviously be aware that his recovery isn’t something to be rushed, so while he takes his time waiting to get cleared to play again, fans can be confident that he is doing everything within his current capabilities to be ready from the get go.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the Penguins, while it’s certainly not fun to be missing your captain to start the season, the team has quickly figured out that missing Crosby provides a good opportunity to evaluate the depth of the roster and to see whether the team still has a quality that arguably saved their season last year and contributed to a turnaround that resulted in the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup – the ability to overcome any obstacles or adversity that came their way. Both of these factors were key to the Penguins’ most recent Stanley Cup. They proved that they had a roster with such good depth that their fourth forward line was good enough to compete with other teams’ first or second lines. Overcoming adversity was pretty much the storyline of the Penguins’ season. Injuries to top players happen, and when they do, teams are closely watched so people can evaluate how strong they can be in still surviving. 

The Pens don’t want to be the Montreal Canadiens, who had a promising start to last season before going on a freefall through the standings once star MVP goalie Carey Price went down. So far, the Penguins have avoided such comparisons. Their season is off to a pretty strong 2-0-0 start despite missing three valuable assets in Crosby, forward Bryan Rust, and goalie Matt Murray. The Pens have turned these unfortunate injuries into chances to incorporate other players into the regular season roster. In Rust’s absence, Scott Wilson is proving to be a potential elite NHL forward and is finding good success on a line with Evgeni Malkin. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost his starting job to Murray last season after sustaining concussions of his own, has seized the opportunity to win back the position of the Pens’ #1 goalie and is impressing already with his stellar play to start the season. The roster as a whole is clicking and proving they are a formidable foe even without the presence of Sidney Crosby, leaving people to wonder what they could be once 87 does return.

So while most people would probably prefer Sidney Crosby hadn’t been injured at all, take a deep breath. There is a way to look at the bright side of things, and Sid and the Pens seem to have things worked out reasonably well.