PITTSBURGH — Bryan Rust is on the roll of a lifetime. The Pittsburgh Penguins winger struggled and fought to score in the first 29 games of the season. He clanged posts, broke sticks on great scoring chances or had goalies made extraordinary saves. He had just a lone goal.
Six games later, Rust has scored eight more goals including two Thursday night (8, 9) as the Penguins ground the Minnesota Wild 2-1 at PPG Paints Arena, and the Penguins won both ends of a grueling back-to back set.
“I have no clue (why he is scoring with such regularity). I also can’t explain the one (goal) in 29 games,” said Rust.
Penguins winger Jake Guentzel played Santa Claus on both Rust goals.
Later in the first period, Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk played the puck behind the net, but his blind backhand pass went straight to Guentzel. A quick pass later, Rust tapped the puck into an empty net.
Guentzel wasn’t done giving.
Midway through the third period, Guentzel again intercepted the puck behind the Minnesota net and again fed Rust a holiday feast. Rust beat Dubnyk and the Penguins sprang from their bed to see what was a matter.
The tally energized the Penguins who suddenly found an extra step deep into the third period.
“We’ve played a lot of games here, and we knew they were going to come out hard. They’re a team that plays structured. I thought we matched that well, tonight,” said the Thursday night, Rust.
The worn and tired Pittsburgh Penguins played simple, boring hockey for the first two periods. They dumped the puck in, they forechecked and repeated. Line after line. In the first 40 minutes, gone was the attempt at a high-flying road show. Just 24 hours after an emotional and physical win over the Washington Capitals in which the Penguins played with only five defensemen for 59 minutes, the Penguins executed the simplicty with near perfection.
Goaltenders were in a generous mood in the first period. Before Dubnyk’s turnover to Guetnztel, Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith gifted Minnesota a soft goal. Seven minutes into the first period, DeSmith missed a high, short-side wrister from Jordan Greenway (6) at the midwall. DeSmith waived his blocker at the puck as it sailed past.
After the softie, DeSmith settled in and turned away Minnesota shots near and far, including a couple of Grade A chances by Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund. DeSmith turned away 40 shots.
In the second period, the Penguins coaches attempted to jump-start sagging sniper Phil Kessel and center Evgeni Malkin by juggling the lines. After the pair combined for zero 5v5 shots through the first 30 minutes, Malkin began skating with Dominik Simon and Patric Hornqvist. Kessel was dropped to the third line with center Derick Brassard and Tanner Pearson.
The move added some energy to Malkin, but not so much to Kessel. Malkin, Simon and Hornqvist created pressure in the offensive zone.