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Sullivan: Zucker is ‘Menace Out There’



Jason Zucker Pittsburgh Penguins Trade

Jason Zucker has four points in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first four games.

He has been on the ice for five even-strength goals by the Penguins, none by their opponents.

He has drawn three penalties from opposing players, tying Evgeni Malkin for the team lead.

And that’s just a sampling of the statistics that illustrate how effective Zucker has been through the first week-plus of this season.

But there aren’t numbers for everything he has contributed during the 3-0-1 start the Pittsburgh Penguins will take into their game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Saturday at 7:08 p.m.

Consider their first goal in a 6-1 victory against Los Angeles at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night.

Not because Zucker was credited with the second assist on it — his pass to Malkin near the right-wing corner in the Kings’ zone only covered about 10 feet — but because of what he was doing while Jan Rutta’s wrist shot from the right point was eluding Los Angeles goalie Cal Petersen.

Zucker was battling with Kings defenseman Sean Walker in front of the net, setting a screen that assured Petersen never would see Rutta’s shot until he watched a replay on the arena’s video board.

He was hovering around the Los Angeles crease again during a power play at 4:13 of the second, when Jeff Petry’s wrist shot from well above the right circle made it to the back of the net. Perhaps because Jonathan Quick, who had replaced Petersen after the first period, was getting a good look at the back of Zucker’s sweater, not the puck, when Petry shot.

“(Setting screens) is a part of the game,” Zucker said. “It’s a big part of a power play. We have a lot of guys who are doing it on our (No. 2) unit. Between me, (Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen and Rickard Rakell), it’s just kind of interchanging. Everyone’s doing a great job. I just happened to be there on those two.”

He didn’t bother to mention that he just happens to be there an awful lot.

Or that he actually had started the sequence that ended with Petry’s goal by flipping the puck into the Los Angeles end and pursuing it aggressively. That led to a hurried clearing attempt around the boards by Kings defenseman Matt Roy that was intercepted at the left point by Heinen, who promptly fed it to Petry on the far side of the ice.

Zucker didn’t get a point for his work on that one because Roy handled the puck after Zucker put it into the attacking zone, but the Kings probably would have done a better job of getting it out of their end if Zucker hadn’t forced Roy to move it so quickly by getting on him so fast.

Effective forechecking and physicality — his 10 hits are more than any Pittsburgh Penguins forward except Josh Archibald, who has 15 — are integral parts of Zucker’s game, and helped to convince then-GM Jim Rutherford to send a first-round draft choice, highly regarded defense prospect Calen Addison and Alex Galchenyuk to Minnesota for him on Feb. 10, 2020.

Zucker rarely has been able to live up to expectations, though, because of a series of significant lost-time injuries. They include a core-muscle issue that had to be surgically repaired in January.

He’s healthy now, though, and it shows. All over the ice. Especially in high-traffic areas around the net.

“(Zucker) is playing really well for us right now,” Mike Sullivan said. “He’s going to the net. The power-play goal that Jeff Petry gets, it’s just a great screen, at the net-front.

“He’s a menace out there. He’s relentless on the puck-pursuit game. He’s bringing physicality. He’s going to the net. And I think he’s creating opportunity for his linemates, or the power play that he’s on because of it.

“That’s the game we envisioned he would bring to our team. We’ve finally got a healthy (Zucker) who is excited to play and I think he’s bringing his best right now.”

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1 month ago

love love to see healthy zuck buzzin around

1 month ago

Glad to see him healthy and finally making an impact when he is out there. With Zucker playing the way he is, our top 6 forwards are as good as any team in the league!