Lately, the Penguins defense has been struggling. In the last three games, the Matt Hunwick-Jamie Oleksiak pairing has been on the ice for a handful of bad goals against. It seemed like Mike Sullivan officially had enough, and since he can’t do much about the goalie situation until Matt Murray returns from injury, he decided to finally replace Hunwick with one of the players in his bag of depth defensemen.
Chad Ruhwedel got his named called, and man, did he earn his return back to the lineup in that Islanders game Saturday afternoon.
Not only did he pass the eye test by filling gaps on the ice and providing a solid backcheck on most of New York’s odd-man rushes, but his stat line proved that he was nothing short of phenomenal.
Ruhwedel was clocked in at having 25 shots for and 11 against late in the third period. He also had 10 scoring chances for and only four against. His Corsi For percent was a whopping 58.4%. While on the ice, Ruhwedel had an expected goals for total of .81 and an expected goal against rate of 0.3 — totaling a 73% expected goals for percentage. And as a third-pairing defenseman, Ruhwedel was still attributed 14 minutes in TOI. That’s miles better than what we were seeing with Hunwick-Oleksiak.
When you compare that to Hunwick’s last few games, it’s almost laughable. Hunwick had a 13.2% Corsi For percentage, and expected goals for total of .13, and an expected goals against average of 1.07 (!). It was like night and day.
To be fair, Pittsburgh, as a team, completely out-worked the Islanders all game, even if sometimes it didn’t seem like it on the scoreboard (looking at you, Jarry). But it was hard not to notice just how great Ruhwedel was. One game is obviously way too small of a sample size, but it’s a fantastic start for him and it was relieving to watch the defense be successful.
Hopefully he continues to play well. The Penguins need their defense to continue trending upwards as the regular season dwindles down. Points are super crucial right now, especially considering Pittsburgh’s next two games are against teams outside of the Metro.