PITTSBURGH — When Dominik Simon caught Boston Bruins forward David Krejci from behind Sunday night, he set forward another scoring play by the Pittsburgh Penguins third line. Center Nick Bjugstad finished from the side of the crease because Krejci couldn’t move the Penguins 6-foot-6 center before Bjugstad slammed the puck into the net.
Winger Patric Hornqvist has besieged puck carriers as if their possession of the frozen vulcanized rubber was a personal affront. Bjugstad has laid claim to the midwall. Both are charging to the front of the net. Since the line was formed at the Stadium Series game, opponents have not had an answer.
The combo could be the key to the Penguins season. The Penguins third line for most of this season was a black hole but things appear to have changed and the line is tilting the ice and adding offense.
“(Hornqvist) is unbelievable on the forecheck. He’s always coming up with pucks,” Bjugstad said Sunday night. “It makes it easy for me to come in and try to support each other. We’re tight. When we’re supporting each other good things happen.”
Good things like Bjugstad’s goal just 93 seconds into the game.
“It was kind of whack-a-mole at the net,” Bjugstad mused. “Hornqvist and Simon did they work up top. They created a turnover and I was just sitting at the net trying to whack at it.”
Bjugstad’s modesty on the goal aside, it was a perfect ugly goal touched by all three linemates. And it set the tone against Boston which had points in 19 straight games.
And more good things like another performance in which they overwhelmingly outshot, out-chanced and controlled the puck in the opponent’s territory.
Bjugstad said of Hornqvist, “He’s a gritty player. He makes things happen. He’s intense. Yeah, he’s a good linemate.”
The line not only scored a goal Sunday night, but they also held their opponents to zero scoring chances; the line had a 100 percent scoring chance ratio (according to NaturalStatTrick.com). Saturday night against Columbus, the line with Jared McCann on LW had the highest shot attempt ratio, 57 percent.
Last Thursday night against Columbus the line generated more scoring chances than all other lines combined (9). They dominated the puck with an 88 percent shot attempt ratio and had a 90 percent scoring chance ratio.
“You’ve got Simon and Hornqvist moving their feet on the forecheck. I think it makes our line a lot of fun to play with; when we’re playing in their end,” Bjugstad continued to dish praise on his linemates Sunday night. “Those are two guys who work hard and obviously skilled, too. I’m enjoying playing with them.”
How refreshing is it to hear a happy Penguins third line center?
We could go on. Since the Bjugstad-Hornqvist combination was put together during seven games ago, they have dominated their opponents. Not coincidentally, the Penguins have points in six of those games including four wins.
Bjugstad is embracing the Penguins third line center role (PHN spoke with him about it last week–read more about that here). Whether McCann or Simon is on the left wing with he and Hornqvist, the line is grinding opponents in the low zone, making it difficult to generate speed against the Penguins and tilting the ice for the Penguins.
“(Bjugstad and McCann) are two real good players and they’ve embraced the roles we’ve put them in. When guys bring a certain level of enthusiasm and embrace the challenge, that for me is where it starts–just that attitude of wanting to make a difference and wanting to help this team win games,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
“I think both of these guys are excited to Penguins and excited by the roles we’ve put them in,” Sullivan continued.
Perhaps the Penguins should be excited, too.