It’s a simple strategy. Pittsburgh Penguins forward Teddy Blueger had a hint of awe in his voice when asked of his recent time playing beside center Evgeni Malkin and winger Phil Kessel. Malkin and Kessel are, after all, a couple of the highest scoring players of this generation and Malkin one of the greatest of the era.
It’s only natural the 24-year-old rookie from tiny Latvia whose previous hockey highlights included the Calder Cup playoffs in the AHL and playing for Latvia in the World Championships.
“First time it was interesting. Obviously, it was exciting with (Kessel) and Geno [sic]. It’s been a lot of fun,” Blueger said. “Those guys are so creative and so smart. The passes they make are unorthodox, you could say.”
Unorthodox is one way to say it. High risk is another way. And each account for more than a point-per-game average. With Malkin’s injury at the hands, or stick of St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, Blueger was the choice to sub for Malkin between Kessel and Bryan Rust, Sunday night.
The line scored the Penguins only goal but created as many scoring chances in limited work as Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel did in a full allotment (7).
Blueger divulged his super duper top secret strategy to playing with players like Malkin and Kessel.
“I just try to give them the puck and open up some room for them, as much as I can.”
His simple strategy is paying dividends. Blueger has three points (1g, 2a) and is a +4 in his last five games. In total, Blueger has played only 19 NHL games, all this season.
“I try to listen more,” Blueger also said.
Sunday, Blueger more than held his own. His line was used sparingly in the later stages of the game but they had already staked the Penguins a one-goal lead.
“I think we had some pretty good O-zone time, and some good forechecks,” said Blueger. “I think I’ve bee getting better. It helps when you can contribute and score.”
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was taking a game-by-game approach and declined to make Blueger the Penguins second or third line center when asked Sunday night. Without Malkin, it may be a matter of semantics between second or third line, but playing with Rust and Kessel brings with it inherent responsibilities to hit the scoring sheet.
Tuesday, Sullivan expounded this time offering praise for Blueger, “We’re going to watch it. See how it goes. I thought Teddy had a real good game,” Sullivan said. “He scored a goal for us. Rust is just getting back in the lineup but is a real important player for us.”
“With Teddy and Rusty [sic], we’ve got speed on the line. We’ve got two conscientious players that play a 200-foot game. They’re good at getting in on the forecheck and forcing turnovers and hopefully with Phil’s offensive instincts that line could work for us.”
The Penguins have division battle in Carolina, tonight. The Penguins have a three-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for third place in the Metro Division, but Carolina has two games in hand. Carolina has given the Penguins fits this season because of their team speed. The Penguins shutout Carolina 3-0 on Dec. 22 but were shutout by Carolina on Feb. 5, 4-0.
Carolina leads the NHL in shots but also in shots allowed.