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Penguins vs. Sharks Game 2 Preview: Rust back on ice, Nieto to return?

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Bryan Rust takes the ice for the morning skate for the Pittsburgh Penguins, are the Sharks about to put Matt Nieto back in? Why the Pens history proves SJ isn't in huge trouble even if they lose tonight

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Happy news for the Pittsburgh Penguins this morning

Rust has been officially labeled day-to-day and coach Mike Sullivan usually hangs on closely to all roster decisions as "game time decisions", but it's a better sign to see Rust on the ice than missing time after absorbing a big hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1.

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From Fear the Fin's game preview:

Will Matt Nieto make it into the lineup? He's one of the Sharks fastest skaters and will be needed to combat Pittsburgh's speed. My guess it that it'll be Melker Karlsson or Dainius Zubrus that would be scratched, if Nieto hears his name called.

We'll see what if any changes they make, Nieto has been out with an injury since May 9th. In age, size, skill and stats he looks like the Sharks answer to what Bryan Rust is to the Pens. Which means more now then it did as of about 4 games ago.

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Sidney Crosby is in some pretty rarefied company when it comes to all-time playoff scoring at his age.

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Andrew Gross, a New Jersey based writer, noticed that a lot of Ray Shero draftees are making positive splashes for the Pens this spring

Matt Murray, 22, who took over for injured franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and has been the backbone of the Penguins’ run, was a third-round pick in 2012. Under Shero’s watch.

Forward Bryan Rust, 24, who scored twice in the Penguins’ Game 7 win over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final and once in Monday’s Game 1 win (although he’s questionable tonight with an upper-body injury), was a third-round pick in 2010. Under Shero’s watch.

Valuable fourth-line forward Tom Kuhnhackl, 24, was a fourth-round pick in 2010. Top-pair defenseman Olli Maatta, 21, was a first-round pick in 2012. Forward Beau Bennett, 24, was a first-round pick in 2010. Center prospect Oskar Sundqvist, 22, was a third-round pick in 2012.

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, 24, was acquired from the Hurricanes in 2012 in the Jordan Staal trade, which also yielded the eighth overall selection in the 2012 draft, which turned out to be defenseman Derrick Pouliot. Forward Conor Sheary, 23, who has blended so well with Sidney Crosby at times, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst after his senior year in 2014.

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There’s no way to downplay Rutherford and Sullivan’s contributions and it would be unwise and unfair to speculate whether the Penguins still make the Cup Final with Shero at the helm.

We'll never know but to throw in an unwise and unfair comment in, all we have to do is remember the track Shero had the Pens on from 2012-14, with little playoff success and lots of frustration.

It's great that a lot of Shero scoutees have panned out in 2016 (which, to be honest, probably is more a feather in the cap of scouts and then developmental coaches in the organization than the general manager). But the problem that was a major factor in why Shero was fired still remains that he gutted the Pens system from 2007-on in order to chase playoff success at the expense of young players. Across the board, Shero had a bad history of 1st and 2nd rounders, and though it's nice some later round picks have provided depth now, that's excessively generous to credit a GM for being lucky enough to find a winning ticket late.

This was a big reason he got excused from his job in Pittsburgh in 2014, because they didn't have enough fast, young, good NHL players at that point. Shero seemingly figured this out around 2012, but hockey prospects take so long to pan out that's only now paying dividends at the NHL level. Shero's mismanagement years earlier put them in a tough spot in '14.

Shero certainly deserves a nod of recognition for some pieces he added to the organization, but at the same time there should be little-to-no doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Stanley Cup final because of the job Rutherford did to shape the team with acquisitions like Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Matt Cullen. It's great that some of Shero's prospects have added to the mix, and they certainly have added a lot, but it's a fairly big revision in history to look back at Shero's decision making with young players in Pittsburgh and label it any kind of success.

What Devils fans might take heart in knowing is that Shero has apparently changed strategies; he's got 9 picks in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft, including 6 in the top 4 rounds. By accumulating picks he increases the chance of finding the next Rust or Murray or Sundqvist and adding talent in the NJ system, but it's going to take a really long time to show.

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Really giving the "home shoot twice" patrons the bang for their buck.

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Finally, a bit weird that it's being floated in the media this is a must-win situation for San Jose. Remember when the Pens went down 0-2 in '09 in the SCF to Detroit? Or 0-2 in '09 to the Caps?

Certainly, down 0-2 is not a spot any team wants to be in, and statistically and historically that indicates a high likelihood of losing the series. But, one way or the other, tonight's game result doesn't decide the series. Just something worth pointing out, that this isn't really a series SJ will be in deep trouble in, until they were to lose a home game.

That said, tonight definitely does put one team that one step closer to the Cup.