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9 Thoughts on the Pens: Enjoying good times, rest vs. rust, and just Rust in general

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Appreciating the good times while they last, Fleury passes Barrasso, Rust being special, Phil turning it up and a lot more in this edition of some random Penguins thoughts after a first round series win against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Some random thoughts:

#1: It's a cheesy line, but reveling in the Pens playoff win over the Blue Jackets brought to mind the old 'Nard Dog. (I have a weird mind). Andy Bernard said in the last episode of The Office, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."

The same thought can apply to playoff hockey. Take the Mario Lemieux era Penguins of the early '90s. They had won 9 straight playoff series coming into the '93 NYI second round matchup. Before that the Pittsburgh franchise had only won 3 total playoff series in 23 years of existence!

Anyways, we know the story, '93 went south and instead of being the next NHL dynasty the Pens entered a period of malaise and ownership problems, winning only 4 more total series from the six springs of 1994-99 until Lemieux ended up with control of the team. The good old days of the early '90s ended suddenly and without warning the chances to be a serious championship contender (outside of a good run in 1996) were never really there again.

An abrupt change in fortune happened to the Crosby/Malkin Pens as well. In 2010 the Pens were 8-1 in their previous nine playoff series as they entered a second round matchup against Montreal, pretty similar to the '93 team. Things also went south, injuries happened and the Pens only won a total of 3 series over the next five years until the start of the 2016 playoffs

Currently, the "good old days" still look to be going strong. Pittsburgh is 5-0 in series under Mike Sullivan. The Crosby/Malkin era has had a rebound and return to glory that even the Lemieux-era Pens never were able to have in their life cycle. But as we've seen in cycles, the ebb will follow the flow at some point. It's fun to enjoy and not take forgranted right now.

#2 That out of the way, here's some cool stats courtesy of Jason Seidling from the Penguins:

  • The Penguins are 13-4 all-time in series in which they hold home-ice advantage during the Sidney Crosby/ Evgeni Malkin era (excludes 2011 versus Tampa Bay when they were both injured).
  • Since the beginning of last year, the Penguins have a 12-4 home record in the postseason (3-0 this year).
  • Here in Pittsburgh, the Penguins have a 13-1-1 in their last 15 games against division opponents (regular season and playoffs).
  • That was the Pens' 60th win in their last 80 home games (regular season and playoffs).
  • Marc-Andre Fleury surpassed Tom Barrasso to establish a franchise playoff record with 57 wins. His 49 saves set a career high for a regulation postseason game.
  • Bryan Rust notched two goals, and has tallied eight goals in his last 13 playoff games. It was his third career multi-goal playoff game.
  • Rust became the first player in franchise playoff history to score multiple goals in three series-clinching victories. It was Rust's second-career series-deciding goal (Tampa Bay, 2016).
  • Rust has seven goals and one assist in nine career postseason elimination games.
  • Evgeni Malkin registered three assists, pushing his playoff point total to 11 (2G-9A), the most to date in the postseason this year. Malkin's 11 points tie his highest single-series playoff point total (11, vs. NY Islanders, 2013).
  • Malkin passed Brett Hull and Mike Modano with his three assists to take over 34th on the all-time playoff assists list (90). (credit: TSN)
  • Sidney Crosby registered his second goal of the playoffs in the third period on the power-play to move to within three points of tying Jaromir Jagr for second place on the team's all-time playoff scoring list with 147 points.

#3: Rust is probably the main offensive reason the Penguins made it past Tampa last year with his late-series goals and into the Stanley Cup final. Remarkable to see him pickup where he left off this post-season. He's great at scoring goals but always seems to get nicked up with little injuries. I would imagine that the about week of rest the Pens are looking at will do him well.

#4: Speaking of the rest vs. (not Bryan) rust debate- Sullivan works the players hard in practice. I often thought in-season a little too hard as far as not cancelling very many even in a condensed season. They don't go full battle-drills or do bag skates for an hour, not saying it's overly tough but the coach fancies himself a teacher. They certainly have a lot to work on and clean up defensively.

#5: Here's an interesting stat

Also noticed Phil Kessel initiated body contact and a puck battle along the wall and won it in Game 5! A very rare sighting. (And, ok, yeah Patric Hornqvist joined in and helped but still). Phil's been fairly quietly productive in the five games (8 points) and the two PPG's were things of beauty, but he's making subtle plays and has kicked into a very high gear.

#6: So you got Sid and the Kids, Geno with Rust+Kessel, that's just so much to worry about and matchup nightmares. Now can the Pens get Carl Hagelin and/or Chris Kunitz back from injury to make their forward depth all the more frightening?

#7: There's a lot of hand-wringing and cause for concern about the shots given up by Pittsburgh. All true, and plenty of time to analyze and over-analyze. Columbus was 9th in the regular season with 31 shots a game. They had the league's longest winning streak of the season and a solid record. Not exactly playing chumps, and they were also behind during the games for much of the series.

Not going to chalk it all up to score effects explaining why the Pens gave up 38.8 shots per game, but I don't think it's the end of the world. Let's not forget in Games 1&2 CBJ had 72 total SOG and, what, 3 were from high danger areas? Wasn't like they were getting a bevy of great chances, more the look of a team trying to throw everything and anything at the net.

#8: Riddle from our buddy Jesse

He would reveal the answer as Brian Dumoulin on the ice for the most scoring chances for of any Penguins defenseman.

#9: The Pens schedule by winning isn't that different yet. According to the schedule the team distributed prior to the start of the playoffs, today was always planned to be an off-day. Not sure if that would have changed following a potential 2 straight losses...Regardless, it's still an off-day and the team gets to rest and not worry about going back to Columbus for a Game 6. Instead, focus might turn to watching Toronto and Washington do battle in Game 5 of their 2-2 series. The earliest that series could end is Sunday (Game 6). If needed, Game 7 would be Tuesday night.