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Penguins Turning Points: Top Line Shuffle, Guentzel Finds Soft Spot



Pittsburgh Penguins Jake Guentzel GWG
Jake Guentzel Game Winner: Screen Grab Courtesy AT&T Sports

The cardiac kids disguised as the Pittsburgh Penguins tied a franchise record with their fourth straight win after trailing in the third period. The Penguins fought through their own mistakes (again), found a rhythm (again), squeaked by with a one-goal win (again), as they beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Sunday night.

Things changed in the second period after Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues was injured. The Penguins winger had New York defenseman Filip Chytil lined up for a heavy hit at the Penguins blue line. Just as Rodrigues lowered the boom, the linesmen whistled offside.

The collision happened anyway. Rodrigues was slow to get up, then skated directly to the locker room. Chytil stayed down and left the game, too.

Positive points for Rodrigues for bringing some jam into the lineup. His grades have not been bad. He’s fast, determined, gritty, and a positive asset. However, top-line duty is a pretty big stretch.

There’s a fine line between balanced lines and watered down. Perhaps with Rodrigues on the top line, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan watered down his top line instead of balancing his lineup.

The Rodrigues injury situation forced Sullivan to juggle the lines again. He did so before the game when he flipped players on three lines. Without Rodrigues, Bryan Rust vaulted to the top line. Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen saddled Evgeni Malkin on the second line.

The Penguins were still evaluating Rodrigues after the game. He skated off the ice doubled over with his right arm tucked close to his body.

After, the top line with Crosby and Rust was nearly untouchable. The pair combined for a breakaway goal almost immediately, and the Penguins had life.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The red arrows indicate when the injury happened. You can see the immediate change.

With respect to Evan Rodrigues, a scrappy hustler worthy of an NHL sweater, Bryan Rust and Kasperi Kapanen in the top six is worlds better. There isn’t much use belaboring the point. When Sullivan stacked the Penguins’ top line, it produced results, and those results speak loudly.

“When we made that change and put Rusty up with Sid and Jake, they had instant success,” Sullivan said. “…Those guys have been familiar with one another. Rusty has played with Sid and Jake for a long period of time. He’s played with (Malkin) for a long period of time…There aren’t too many guys on our team Rusty hasn’t played with.”

When Rust joined the top line, the unity had two goals and a 71% scoring chance ratio.

Pittsburgh Penguins Turning Point #2:

As you can see, the New York Rangers began to dominate later in the third period. They were going for the win, but with a few minutes remaining, the Penguins found their “pushback.”

It didn’t hurt that New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin again let a puck trickle through. As Guentzel dropped into the soft spot of the slot, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby controlled the puck.

You can also see by the cover photo that Pavel Buchnevich may get a little chat from New York head coach David Quinn. Buchnevich should have been on Guentzel, but that’s what happens when a team plays with speed and movement in the offensive zone. Mistakes happen.

Guentzel took full advantage. The Penguins won when they were on their heels again. That’s four in a row, and it tied a franchise record for consecutive comeback wins. Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins can practice holding a lead in Boston.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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1 year ago

Hate to see an injury but Rodrigues did not belong in the 1st line. And the narrative he was a placeholder for Kapanen was kinda exposed as baloney . My concern was Rodrigues was becoming the replacement emotional support dog for Dominick Simon. Regardless , Rodrigues doe not belong on the top line IMO. Malkin is not off to a slow start, rather a continuation of his play against Montreal in the First Round embarrassment. And for that matter the previous no show VS the Islanders. Jarry, POJ Crosby, Rust, Blueger all the Dmen look fine , 87 excellent. But… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Katz

Agreed with everything but the Malkin comments. Malkin is fine we have a coaching issue. We all could see from day 1 that Rodriquez was not a first line player. If you break the first line you hurt all the lines. As I wrote yesterday I am not sure if this is a coaching problem alone or if Sid is calling the shots.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dean

I’ll preface this by saying I’m the type of Pens/Geno fan that defended him no matter the case over the course of his amazing career.

He does look badly off thus far this empty arena year. Disinterested. After he scored his pp goal there was no emotion.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dean

I think you might be right about #87. I have also been wondering why Sullivan doesn’t put Jake with Malkin (he creates space that #59 will find) and try Zucker with Crosby cause he doesn’t look good on 2nd line and why mess up 3rd line chemistry. Crosby having veto power over who gets to play with him might explain a lot. Malkin always seems to have to play with whatever loose ends falls thru the cracks and then even loses a line mate like Rust when convenient for Crosby. With all the injuries why wait to put Kap on… Read more »

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