Jason Zucker had not put up a point in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ previous six games.
Neither had Bryan Rust.
Evgeni Malkin, meanwhile, was lava-hot compared to his linemates, having registered all of one point — a power-play assist — in the previous five games.
That’s not the kind of offense the Penguins expect — or need — from their No. 2 line, the one that’s supposed to be tag-team partners with the Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell unit.
But even as Malkin’s line was failing to show up on the scoresheet with exasperating regularity, the guys who play on it felt as if they were getting close to a breakout game.
“I’d like to think so,” Zucker said. “We seemed to be the one who get chances and never (are) able to score together.”
Well, not until the Penguins’ 6-2 victory against St. Louis at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night, anyway.
That is when, aside from Crosby’s empty-net goal, members of the No. 2 line provided all of the offense that Kasperi Kapanen didn’t, combining for two goals and eight assists.
Rust had a goal and three assists, Zucker a goal and two assists and Malkin three assists, as they accounted for 10 of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 38 shots on St. Louis goalies Jordan Binnington and Thomas Greiss.
The one Zucker put past Binnington from high on the left side of the slot at 1:51 of the second period had to be particularly satisfying, since Binnington had swatted Zucker “right in the face” with his glove as Zucker skated around the Blues’ net with just under a half-minute to go in the opening period.
Zucker went hard into the boards and spent the rest of the period in the locker room, but escaped serious injury and insisted that he didn’t view his goal as providing a measure of revenge for Binnington’s unprovoked act.
“That had nothing to do with it,” Zucker said. “It’s just nice to get that goal and help the team win.”
He declined to discuss the incident — “I’ve got no comment on that,” he said — but got a good look from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench when Blues coach Craig Berube yanked Binnington in the wake of his goal. Binnington appeared to direct a comment toward the bench as he skated past it, although Zucker disavowed any knowledge of the details.
“I don’t know what he was saying,” he said. “I was fixing my glove.”
Given Binnington’s penchant for instigating incidents with opposing players, his message probably wasn’t congratulatory in nature.
Rust, like Zucker, had not scored since Nov. 19 in Winnipeg, and the goal was just his second in 15 games.
That’s a serious drought for someone who had three goals in the first six games of the season.
“Anytime you go through stretches like that, it’s in the back of your head,” Rust said. “But I’ve gone through stretches like that before. I’ve gone through stretches much worse.”
He had been trying to shoot his way out of the most recent one, presumably in the belief that if he launched enough pucks toward the net, one eventually would make it in.
Rust had five shots on goal against the Blues, after putting up six against Vegas and three versus Carolina Tuesday.
“The last few games, I’ve been trying to put a lot of pucks on net,” he said. “That just kind of breeds overall confidence.”
So does a game like the one his line had against the Blues, even if the guys who play on it weren’t really surprised by how things played out against St. Louis, individually and collectively.
“Over the last handful of games, I could kind of feel it coming,” Rust said. “Our line, as a whole, kind of felt it coming.”