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Back From Injury, Bryan Rust Shining Again for Penguins

Since returning from an injury, Bryan Rust’s been playing his best hockey of the season and helping to spur the Penguins’ late season resurgence.

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Bryan Rust By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

The Pittsburgh Penguins are comfortably in a playoff spot, finally, mostly because of star power.

Since the beginning of January, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have dominated and improved upon their early-season play. Phil Kessel has continued his most consistently productive and engaged season. In fact, the Penguins are 12-4-1 since the start of the new year after Sunday’s 4-1 win over St. Louis.

Another key cog in the Penguins resurgence is Bryan Rust. He returned from injury eight games ago, on Jan. 23. In addition to playing his best hockey of the season, Rust has six points (4g, 4a).

When Rust is creating chaos and on the score sheet, the Penguins are able to find another gear of offense. On Sunday, his steal and score gave the Penguins their first lead, early in the third period.

Driving Possession

Scoring wise, Rust had a much stronger season a year ago. He scored 15 goals in 57 games during the 2016-17 campaign while he sits with just seven after 45 contests this season. But that certainly isn’t from a lack of effort.

With a 54.1 Corsi For Percentage, Rust has been one of the better Penguins at driving possession this season. In fact, Crosby is the only Pittsburgh forward (excluding players with under 10 games played) with a higher Corsi For Relative Percentage this season.

Rust has been even better at controlling the puck as of late. In three of his past six games, he has posted a Corsi For Percentage above 65 percent. Finally, that’s led to some goals, as he’s scored three goals and five points during that stretch. It could easily be more too if Rust didn’t hit a couple posts on empty nets.

However, consistency has still been an issue for Rust. In two of the three contests where Rust had a Corsi For Percentage below 65 percent, he was well below that mark at 42.9 and 38.9 percent. That’s obviously not good, but for the most part, Rust is doing great things with the puck.

Speed An X-factor

Those numbers quantify a little of what Rust provides the Penguins even when he isn’t scoring in great bunches. As far as the eye test goes, his speed is a wow factor. It made him a key top-six forward during each of the last two Stanley Cup runs, and with all the star power clicking again, his speed is set to be another key factor come spring time this year.

But speed is just part of the recipe, as Mike Sullivan alluded to about a week ago.

When at his best, Rust is a grinder. A guy who digs pucks along the boards and in the dirty areas. It’s playing with that type of energy that has returned Pittsburgh to form as of late, and his contributions in that area this spring will be even more important without Chris Kunitz.

Not to mention his speed combined with the way he plays defense can lead to plays like this one:

Depth Slowly Returning

Pittsburgh has lost more players to injury since his return, but Rust’s health has helped settle down the seemingly constant rotation of players along the top line. With those strong possession numbers, Rust has earned a spot along Crosby’s wing for the time being.

Even when Rust or is linemates aren’t scoring, they appear to be having an impact on the game. Before the Patric Hornqvist injury, Pittsburgh was a three-lined attack again, which led to some big goal totals.

Just since Rust returned, the Penguins have scored six against the Wild, five versus the Sharks, seven against the Capitals and five against the Golden Knights. While he isn’t the sole reason for the offensive explosions, it’s not a coincidence the Penguins are scoring more goals with Rust back in the lineup.

Once Hornqvist returns, the Penguins will once again possess three very strong scoring lines and have a chance to be the team with the most forward depth in the Metropolitan division. That’s even before the team makes any acquisition of a third-line center.

Now, this is all depend upon Rust continuing to play well enough to stay with Crosby. As previously mentioned, he’s still dealing with consistency issues, but should he continue to build upon his performance to end January and begin February, Rust seems poised to be a central figure towards the Penguins bid at a three-peat.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ellen

    February 11, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Alluded to, not eluded to.

    • Joseph Steigerwald

      February 11, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      Thank you for the correction.

  2. il'ja

    February 12, 2018 at 6:14 am

    I feel like the Ministry of Truth had a hand in writing this: “…a chance to be the team with the most forward depth in the Metropolitan division.”

    Just a couple days back we’re all handwringing over the lack of a 3rd line C, Reaves unproductivity, Rowney a bad 4th line fit, Simon fading, Sid double-shifting, and I feel like the Ministry has just doubled our chocolate ration for the week.

    I love Rust’s game, everything about it. But two weeks ago we were hearing how GMJR needed to trade the farm tofind a 3rd line C or the club might miss the playoffs. Now, with Rust, and soon with Hornquist, everything’s hunky dory? Not arguing with what Brian adds, but there’s more to this recent turnaround than just his return.

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