If you told a Penguins fan who didn’t get to catch Tuesday night’s game vs. the Winnipeg Jets that three of the four goals the team scored were by the bottom-six, they would’ve laughed in your face — and rightfully so.
The third and fourth line did next-to-nothing in Pittsburgh’s prior 20 games. Snake-bitten Bryan Rust has one goal and four assists, Riley Sheahan had a goal and an assist, Derek Grant had two assists, Derick Brassard (who, to be fair, was hurt), the lauded center depth trade acquisition, has just two goals and four assists, Matt Cullen (before he got hurt) has two goals and two assists, and Daniel Sprong has just four assists. Garrett Wilson had never even tallied an NHL point.
Believing that this largely unsatisfactory group erupted offensively against last season’s Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck and led the way to a victory effort in a hostile Bell MTS Place is laughable. But folks, that’s exactly what happened.
It’s been a long time coming.
Sure, it may have been a little bit of luck (Sheahan and Grant probably didn’t deserve those goals) mixed with a pretty decent netminder having an uncharacteristically poor outing, but a huge performance like this is exactly what the Penguins needed to breathe some life back into the bottom-six and potentially ignite future offensive success. It goes without saying that being able to regularly distribute scoring throughout all four forward lines turns this team back into the playoff contender everyone predicted they would be before the season started.
The bottom-six’s superb defense was also on full display against the Jets’ best players. Mike Sullivan mentioned post-game that he often deployed the third and fourth line against lethal scorers like Patrik Laine in the defensive zone with confidence because of how well-executed their shutdown ability was. Not to mention they also seemed to block every opposing shot under the sun. That’s a huge confidence boost for a group that had little faith coming from their head coach so far.
Before we all pinch ourselves, we need to remember it’s just one game, but the fact that it came against a difficult opponent littered with elite talent on the road, coupled with tons of in-game adversity, is great news. With an arduous back-to-back against the surging Avalanche on the marquee tonight, a hot streak from the secondary to boost the top-six couldn’t come at a better time.