They just keep winning and unexpected players just keep stepping to the fore to fuel the Pittsburgh Penguins surge through the Metro Division standings. The Penguins lack top-line center Sidney Crosby and top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin. No second-pair, power-play quarterback Justin Schultz, either. No problem. The holiday break did little to slow the Penguins roll as they swept a home-and-home series against the Nashville Predators Friday and Saturday night.
The Penguins win Saturday night was the result of early investments to build a 3-0 lead paying off and more unheralded players like Dominik Kahun adding offense.
“It definitely wasn’t our best win,” Bryan Rust replied to PHN with a wry smile about the Penguins 6-4 win.
The season has been enjoyable for the wealth of stories which emanated from the team. It’s not always something, it’s always somethings.
Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers:
1. Bryan Rust
I guess it is time we begin to consider him a scorer. He has 16 goals in 24 games but that pace cannot continue. What will continue is his hard work, his puck pressure, and his ability to get the puck in the scoring areas. What should also continue is his newfound poise with the puck. The extra heartbeat in which he’s holding the puck to make the right shot makes all of the difference.
Of course, his even-strength goal on Saturday night had nothing to do with offensive ability as he poked a loose puck into an empty net, but his play away from the puck put him in that position.
He really could score 30 goals this season.
There also isn’t a better guy in the locker room. He’s showing leadership skills in addition to the offensive skills. Looking back, it’s been a treat to watch his growth from bottle rocket kid who never passed to an all-round player and leader.
We are about to find out what is in head coach Mike Sullivan’s heart. The Pittsburgh Penguins have six games in the next 11 days. Here’s what to watch for:
Did Murray’s win on Saturday and solid third period earn another start on Monday vs. Ottawa? If Murray starts, he is still the No. 1.
Will Murray get the start following a Jarry clunker? A bad game is bound to happen, sooner or later. Jarry has been on his game but eventually, he’s going to have an oops. Will Sullivan respond with Murray or Jarry following that game? If its Jarry, Jarry is the new No. 1. If it’s Murray, he is still “the guy.”
PHN has been in Jarry’s corner for a few years, but we’ll remind fans and readers, you don’t need to hate a player to advocate for another. And defending a player against ridiculous or over-the-top anger does not constitute an agenda other than the truth. Murray is an NHL goalie who has lost his way. He needs playing time to find his way back.
Things have not been smooth since Murray became the unquestioned starter in 2017-18. And here’s a little tidbit, too: There were some quiet grumblings about Murray’s injury last December, which kept him out for nearly a month at the low point of his struggles. He is not guaranteed to take the net like he was last year and that unspecified injury, combined with several other injuries, caused the Penguins to look ever-so-slightly more cautiously at Murray.
We’re about to see Mike Sullivan play his cards, though bet on a cautious approach, either way.
3. Alex Galchenyuk
I’ll admit it. I’ve come to like the guy despite our very limited interaction. That won’t temper my grades, as evidenced by the grade his line earned on Saturday night but it is nice to see him pot the power-play goal because it felt like he was beating the hell out of himself in the first half of the season.
“I work a lot on my shot, it’s not like I’ve never scored a goal in this league,” he laughed Saturday night. “A lot of people were making a lot out of it. I’ve been through cold stretches before. Now it’s going well for me, I’ve got to stick to it.”
He was one of those who were making a lot out of it. To his credit, he was the last off the ice, sometimes nearly an hour after practice ended. His tone of voice, his body language, even his words were those of a player who was underwater and didn’t understand why.
“Alex works so hard, he’s really a great person. He cares so much,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “When he was going through the struggles, it really wasn’t for lack of effort, lack of care or want.”
Galchenyuk hasn’t yet found his center with the Penguins. It is not the current second-line center Jared McCann. Perhaps it will be Nick Bjugstad.
4. Patric Hornqvist
The Penguins power play scored three goals in Hornqvist’s return to the lineup. Coincidence, I think not.
However, the Penguins seemed to miss Hornqvist less over the last month than they usually do. One commenter on the website remarked, “it’s been so long, I forgot about him!”
Hornqvist will be a boost for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it will take a week to get up to full speed. He has been a durable force in the NHL but a concussion slowed him last season and multiple injuries have slowed him this season. I argued in favor of the five-year contract extension two years ago, against many who worried injuries would claim him.
I’m wondering if some of you were right. The jury is out, but I’m no longer convinced I was right.
5. Jack Johnson
I’ll have to cycle back to do the story. Before the west coast road trip, I asked Johnson if he was feeling momentum for the first time as a Penguin. In a nutshell, he answered yes. However, that was before Brian Dumoulin was sliced by a skate and needed surgery, which threw the defense pairings into flux.
Johnson is the glue keeping the Penguins defense together right now. His work with Kris Letang on Friday and Saturday night was very good, though you wouldn’t notice unless you were specifically looking for it. He took away several scoring opportunities by reading the play and nullifying them before they fully developed. He’s getting better at reading Letang, which can sometimes be difficult.
Cmon, just admit it. It’s Ok. In this argument, PHN was spot-on.