Playing on the Pittsburgh Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby is not an easy task. It doesn’t come with a set of instructions, nor is it a simple, linear task with set marks. It’s kind of like navigating around Pittsburgh, which for those who aren’t intimately familiar is a confusing set of one-way streets, bypasses, and muttered utterances in traffic. Newly acquired Penguins winger Jason Zucker is figuring it all out.
Literally and figuratively.
Zucker has bonded with Patrick Marleau, who is also new to the Penguins.
“Bringing a guy like Patty in, it’s been fun getting to know him,” Zucker said. “We’re staying at the hotel together right now, so we’ve been driving and getting to know each other a little bit, so it’s been nice. It would be great for (Marleau) to get a (Cup).”
The 40-year-old Marleau has played 22 years in the NHL, including 20 with the San Jose Sharks and has yet won a Stanley Cup. He chose to make himself available via trade to finally win that Cup, and his hopes rest with the Penguins.
Marleau has also taken the coveted role of last on the ice. Penguins fans have watched Sidney Crosby precede Evgeni Malkin on the ice since the pair were teenagers and figured out that arrangement in a quick moment before their first game. Now they’ve ceded that to Marleau.
“They wanted to switch things up. It worked (Tuesday night), so we’ll see how long it lasts,” Marleau smiled Tuesday after the Penguins snapped their six-game losing streak. “No, I’m not really (superstitious), but I’ll do whatever these guys tell me.”
There is one superstitious guy, and he wears No. 87, so expect Marleau to be last out of the tunnel again Thursday night.
Things can be tough for a new player to integrate into the locker room, the ice, and even a city built on a triangular piece of land. Not every acquisition has fit in, blended well, and been successful. For every Billy Guerin, who arrived, won, and stayed, there is a Tanner Pearson who didn’t.
“I’m finally figuring out where I’m going and what locker room I’m going in. Different seats on the bus and plane,” Zucker admitted. “It’s been good. The guys have been great. They’re a vibrant group that likes to have fun. They like to keep things light, but when they come down it, they know it’s business.”
“They’ve welcomed me in with open arms. It’s been great, so I’m very grateful for that.”
In 11 games with the Penguins, Zucker has 10 points, including six goals. Two of those markers have been power-play goals, as Zucker has breathed life into the Penguins second power-play unit.
Another newbie isn’t quite a newb. The Pittsburgh Penguins re-acquired Conor Sheary in the final hour before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 24. Sheary was a part of the Penguins two Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017 before he was traded in a salary-cap move in the summer of 2018.
Sheary has two points (1g, 1a) in four games since arriving from Buffalo.
“A few things I’m still learning. You forget a little bit. I’ve been part of two different systems over the last two years with two different coaches (in Buffalo),” Sheary said on Wednesday. “I think just remembering certain things within our D-zone and our forecheck, are just a couple of things I have to pick up on.”
Sheary has helmed the right-wing with Crosby while Zucker has anchored the left. Both are fast, which plays to Crosby’s pounding speed game, too. Though Tuesday night was the first time, Sheary scored in his four games. He was attempting to set up Crosby for an easy backdoor tap-in goal, but a defender’s skate did the job for him.
“I think (the line) is good. I think we were a little bit snake-bitten on the California trip. We were playing pretty well but just couldn’t finish our chances,” Sheary said. “Obviously on (Tuesday) we were scoring in bunches. So, I think we’ve been creating chemistry since we’ve been together.”
The Penguins finally put it all together on Tuesday, which was their first win since the NHL trade deadline. Not a moment too soon, either. The Philadelphia Flyers are winning in bunches and have passed the Penguins for second place.
It’s March. Teams that do well in March typically navigate the NHL postseason well. The Pittsburgh Penguins of last season notwithstanding. It’s a new crop of players with experience, speed, and some familiarity with the Penguins goals. Now we’ll get to see if they’ll figure it out.
Literally and figuratively.