Tag Archives: Bryan Rust

Should We Expect More From the Bottom Six?

The Penguins have had one of the better bottom six forward groups in the league for the past two years. This year’s bottom six is not that.

Let’s just state the obvious, this bottom six could use some work.

Losing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen definitely takes a hit on your center depth chart. They also lost the occasional fourth line Chris Kunitz but I’m fine with Ryan Reaves taking his place as far as physicality goes.

Yes, they did acquire center Riley Sheahan from Detroit (see my article on that) but he’s not Bonino or Cullen. I’m not saying that these guys are awful, but should we expect more from them?

Let’s just look at the third line center position for the last couple of years starting with Brandon Sutter. Sutter’s tenure with the Penguins was from 2012 to 2015. Every year he was the third line center and surpassed 10 goals each year. He wasn’t fantastic but he was good enough to make a difference even while being in that bottom six.

After that there was Bonino who centered the third line for two seasons in Pittsburgh from 2015 to 2017. Bonino didn’t score a lot of goals but had over 20 points both seasons. Other than the drop off at center, the wingers are either the same or have been in the system like Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust, Carter Rowney and Carl Hagelin. If it feels like we should be seeing more from these players, it’s because we’re used to a higher standard of offense in Pittsburgh.

We’ve had two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not to mention American hero Phil Kessel on the wing. So this bottom six isn’t exactly a spitting image of last year’s, but they still produce opportunities and really their job is more of a shut down defensive style of game but scoring would help from time to time.

Also a side note: Prayers to Ryan Shazier.

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Penguins’ Improvement At 5-on-5

When you work hard, eventually you get rewarded. As much as it’s hard to keep believing this when you’re not getting the bounces, it proves itself true time and time again.

After slumping offensively by Pittsburgh standards for most of the season, Penguins players up and down the roster are finally being rewarded in spades.

Sidney Crosby‘s non-controversial goal on November 24th against Boston explains a lot about the scoring mentality the Penguins possess.

He used his magic hands to knock the puck out of midair, then stayed with it as it landed on goaltender Anton Khudobin‘s stomach. With surgical precision under pressure, he cleanly flicked the puck from stomach to net with a will to score that wouldn’t be denied.

This will continue to be transmitted throughout that locker room and everyone is benefitting. While they may have been struggling to finish chances, this desire has never waivered.

I know it’s hard to think of an NHL player as not wanting to score, but it’s all about appearances. Does a player always have his stick on the ice in the dirty areas? Does a player shoot and then turn away, or shoot and then follow the shot to the net? Does a player ever take a chance that the puck will squirt by a defender and cheat to the weak side knowing full well that if it doesn’t he’ll be caught out of position?

Some players just don’t have offensive awareness. Some players just don’t compete for those loose pucks. That’s what makes guys like Patric Hornqvist, for example, so special. He’s in the net just as often as the puck is, and if you think everyone wants to score as much as he does think about why we miss him so much when he’s out of the lineup.

Then we have to look at Bryan Rust. It’s always fun to see someone streak in on a breakaway, pick his spot, and snipe it first try. What’s more exciting is the breakaway goal Rust scored against Philadelphia. He blocked a shot, which is awesome enough. Then he won a battle up the ice, fighting off the defender to win a scoring chance. The most positive thing of all is how even though he didn’t get everything on his shot, he followed up and stuck with it long enough to take that little extra stab. He ended up knocking it in with the shaft of his stick. Had he not had the will to score, the desire to follow that puck through, it would have been just another missed opportunity for someone who didn’t do everything possible to try and score.

Hornqvist got one off the shaft of his stick in the same period, simply by never giving up on the puck. Jake Guentzel then tied the game with 1:04 left by making sure he did everything he could to get some kind of touch. It went off his body and in.

Earlier in the year, the grittiness was missing. Over the past two weeks it’s been building but not producing. Now it’s finally balancing out. Those aren’t lucky bounces. Those are payments earned.

Pens On Verge of Offensive Outbreak

The Penguins can only not be the Penguins for so long.  They’ve surprisingly had struggles scoring goals all season, especially at even strength.  They rank 19th in the NHL in goals per game, which is very un-Penguin-like.

Well you are witnessing the end of the offensive drought.  The Penguins are back.

The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of their last 2 games, which is a small sample size, but it has significance:

The first of these 2 games came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, arguably the hottest team in hockey along with St. Louis.  Although their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasileskiy, was not manning the crease for the Lightning, the Penguins were starting their backup, Tristan Jarry, in the tail-end of a back-to-back scenario.  The Penguins not only won this game, but put an exclamation point on the win.  They were clearly the better team throughout the game, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The second of these 2 games was against the Philadelphia Flyers who, despite not having a great season thus far, always show up against the Penguins.  In addition, they unfortunately own the Penguins at Consol/PPG Paints, so a win was far from automatic.  Not only did the Penguins score 5 goals in this game, but they battled back on multiple occasions by erasing 3-1 and 4-3 deficits.

The defense absolutely still needs improvement.  They have been over-aggressive in the offensive zone and thus allowing opponents to have way too many odd-man chances.  That said, their offense is starting to show signs of life.  More importantly, the scorers are starting to score, and the Penguins are beginning to get some scoring from their depth guys:

After a rough start, Bryan Rust has looked fantastic in his past couple of games and has netted a couple of goals as a reward for his play.  I thought the line of him, Carter Rowney, and Carl Hagelin played extremely well against the Flyers.  They had multiple extended shifts and kept Philly pinned in their own end.

Jake Guentzel has 7 goals in his last 8 games, confirming that he is a pure goal-scorer when he is on his game. Guentzel had a rough start to the season, but he is starting to find his groove and regaining his confidence going into early December. Look for Guentzel to continue what he has been doing his past few games.

Phil Kessel has been straight up unbelievable.  He is tied for 4th in the NHL in points, and he leads the Penguins in every offensive category.  He is having an MVP-caliber season if he continues his play.  He has become the cornerstone of the Penguins power play, and has found his scoring touch as well.

Remember when Sidney Crosby died?  Again?  Yeah, he’s fine.  Dominating Philly, scoring OT winners, and scoring 9 points in his last 4 games, including 6 in his last 2.  He is going to be okay, and now that he has found his game, look out.  Remember what happened last time Crosby fell off the face of the earth?  It just might happen again…

Oh, and not to mention, the Penguins have scored 5 in their past 2 games without Evgeni Malkin, who will hopefully be back soon.

The Penguins are now done with the most difficult part of their schedule.  They play Buffalo in a home-and-home series this coming weekend which leads into a 5 game homestand.

The Penguins are on the verge of an offensive outbreak: it starts now.

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.

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.

Image result for jake guentzel playoffs

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?

Image result for chris kunitz goal

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.

Image result for bryan rust playoffs

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.