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Blueger Isn’t Perfect, But Penalty-Kill With Him is



Teddy Blueger Hunt Armory

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t given up a power-play goal in the seven games since Teddy Blueger joined the lineup.

Maybe it’s entirely happenstance that the sun rises in the east every day, too.

Probably not, though.

In either case.

And while Blueger’s impact on the shorthanded unit has come in a relatively brief snapshot — especially when compared to, say, the solar routine that’s been in place for countless millennia — it fits very nicely with his history of thriving in that role.

When his jaw was broken on a high hit by Winnipeg defenseman Brenden Dillon Jan. 23, the Penguins had the top-ranked unit in the NHL, with a kill rate of 90 percent. Its efficiency suffered immediately when he left the lineup, eventually finishing the season third in the league at 84.4 percent.

This season, the Penguins had a success rate of 75.5 percent when down a man during the 15 games he missed while recovering from an unspecified injury. With him back in the mix, they’re operating at 100 percent.

That won’t go on indefinitely, of course, and could change as soon as Tuesday, when the Penguins will take on Carolina at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

What’s more, getting Blueger back isn’t the only factor that has enhanced the penalty-kill of late. Newcomers like Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald needed time to get acclimated to the team’s approach to killing penalties, and they clearly are getting comfortable with it.

But that fact that the penalty-kill has gone 17-for-17, with Blueger averaging two minutes, eight seconds of shorthanded work per game, since he came back cannot — and should not — be ignored.

“That makes me look good, I guess,” he said.

Yeah, kinda.¬†Being perfect really isn’t bad.

Sound defense is a staple of Blueger’s game, regardless of how many players the Pittsburgh Penguins have on the ice at a given moment. Having him in uniform, though, has added an offensive dimension to the fourth line, which isn’t counted on to be a consistent source of goals.

In his time between Poehling and Archibald, members of that unit have combined for four goals and seven assists. Those totals include three goals and four assists during a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia Friday.

Such outbursts aren’t going to be the norm for a blue-collar line like Blueger’s, but does illustrate that it occasionally can be capable of contributing more than just energy and effort.

“Hopefully, (the line can do that) more often,” he said. “Everyone’s always trying to score. It doesn’t matter what line you’re on. That’s the most fun part of the game. Whether you’re fourth line or first line, everybody wants to score.

“Obviously, we played well that game (against the Flyers), but I think that a couple of the other games, we could do a better job of holding onto the puck in the offensive zone and just maybe executing one or two passes a little better to get into that good position for a scoring chance.”

Although Blueger politely disputes suggestions that he played better before his jaw injury than he did after returning from it — “I think it’s probably based on goal-scoring,” he said — he does seem to be more aggressively and frequently involved, physically, than he was in the latter stages of 2021-22.

While he hardly was timid then, any hint of caution that might have slipped into Blueger’s game while his jaw healed is gone. It’s noteworthy that he has 10 penalty minutes in seven games, making him the only Pittsburgh Penguins player to average more than one per game in 2022-23.

And while Blueger offers a lukewarm evaluation of himself since he resumed playing –“There’s been some good. Some not-so-good. I think it’s kind of been a mixed bag.” — a good case can be made that he’s on a trajectory to take his game to levels it did not reach previously.

As surely as the sun rises in the east.