Anything slow is like kryptonite to Pittsburgh Penguins winger Bryan Rust. He much prefers fast skating, a fast style of play and fast starts to the season. So when he got a hand injury in the final preseason game, delaying his start to this season by 11 games, there really was just one antidote – a fast start.
In nine games since he got healthy and got into the lineup, Rust has six goals, 10 points. That includes a shorthanded goal in the Penguins’ most recent game, a 6-1 win Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rust said his injury was actually a secondary motivation for getting off to a fast start. Like the rest of his returning teammates, he had a feeling in his gut to address after the Penguins got swept by the New York Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs last spring.
“I think it stemmed from last year. I think everybody in here, including myself, had a little bit of a bitter taste (from) how things happened down the stretch and in the end,” Rust said. “I think I’m just trying to take things day by day this year. Just work hard, do little things, and good things are happening.”
Little things such as…
“Moving my feet. Going to the net. Make plays when they’re open. Play simple when I have to,” he said.
And keeping his speed at the ready.
That’s a lot different from a year ago. Rust had such a slow start that it became a huge source of uncomfortableness.
In 2018-19, Rust went the first five games without a point, seven games without a goal, and through 29 games had just one goal before he broke loose with a hat trick Dec. 12 against Chicago. He still finished with career highs in goals (18) games played (72) game-winning goals (four) and shorthanded points (four, including two goals).
Rust didn’t want to have to play that kind of catch-up with a slow start coming off the hand injury this season, especially when he saw his teammates come together while he was out, playing a responsible yet creative style.
It made him “maybe a little bit even more anxious to get back, to see the team buying in and playing the type of game I know I might be able to be successful in,” he said. “Definitely wanted to get back a little sooner, but watching those guys buying in and having everyone playing hard fuels the guys who aren’t playing or who are hurt to work that much harder, come in and keep doing the same things.”
At 27, Rust, by conventional hockey definition, ought to be coming into the prime of his career. Which might seem odd to those who still think of him as one of the younger guys.
“Don’t necessarily think of myself as a young guy right now,” he said. “It’s crazy to think that I’ve been around for five years now or whatever it’s been. It’s something I’m not taking for granted. Time flies. These years go by quick. I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of it.”
Time might fly, but Rust does, too.
His speed is one of the attributes that has earned him a spot the past couple games on the new-look first line with Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. The three were put together after team captain and top-line center Sidney Crosby had sports hernia surgery last week.
Rust made speed a priority while he played at Notre Dame.
“During college I really started to work on off-ice workouts, more quick-feet stuff, plyometrics and jumping and things like that, and I think it really helped,” he said. “About halfway through college is when I really found my speed, just kind of working on that. I really focused on it and really took it to the next level.”
He hasn’t stopped working on it and believes he has continued to get faster.
“I’d like to think so. It’s something I continuously work on because everybody in the league keeps getting faster and faster. I like to try and maintain at least some sort of advantage in that category.”