This weekly feature usually runs on Friday, but I have to be honest: I totally spaced on what day of the week it was (the life of a freelance sports writer does this to you!) and just as I realized what I had done, the big announcement came that the Trader Jim Rutherford sounded his alarm and sent Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to Florida for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. At that point, it was just best to wait another day and do this on Saturday (this is Saturday, right?).
So here we are.
It was an eventful week for the Penguins on all fronts as they made two trades, lost to another sub-par team in rather ugly fashion, beat the best team in the league in rather impressive fashion, and then finally beat a sub-par team with a roster that didn’t include Evgeni Malkin and did include two guys that literally showed up just as the game was starting.
After all of that the Penguins enter Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs with what is now a six-point cushion over the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, are back in second place in the Metropolitan Division, and just two points out of first place.
Now let us take a look at who is hot and who is not in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Bryan Rust — What a bizarre season for Bryan Rust. Twenty-nine games into the season he had one goal and seven assists and was not really doing much to inspire much confidence after signing a long-term contract over the summer. Now he is just one goal away from matching his career high, is on pace to shatter that number, and will probably set a new personal best in points. He has been on a roll for about two months now and has continued it this week with three goals and an assist.
Sidney Crosby — He helped get things rolling in the big win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night and then followed it up with two more assists on Friday, including a vintage Sidney Crosby play where he took the puck from behind the net, used his body to shield off a defender as only he can, and then found a wide open Jake Guentzel for his first of two goals on the night. He is just a man on a mission right now.
Teddy Blueger — Honestly I just want to give him some attention for making a good first impression in the NHL and getting his first NHL goal on Friday night. It was also a beautiful play! Not only because it was an absolute rocket of a shot, but because he really helped set it up for himself by making a great play at the blue line to keep the play in the zone. Scoring your first goal in the NHL is great, but scoring it because you made a complete play all over the ice is even better.
Who is Not
Jack Johnson — Maybe it’s piling on at this point but given the quick rate that Jim Rutherford has undone all of his roster moves from the past two years it is only a matter of when, and not if, this one joins the list. I just don’t get it, and he looked awful on the two Ottawa Senators’ goals on Friday night by turning the puck over behind the net on the penalty kill to allow Ottawa to keep the play alive, and then get absolutely torched by Matt Duchene a few minutes later. This is going to be a problem in the playoffs when teams can focus on and exploit a single matchup or weakness.
Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and Jamie Oleksiak — They deserve a mention in the “who’s not” department because, well, they are no longer Penguins in large part because they were mostly never really “hot” during their time with the team. Early this season I argued that the Brassard trade had done what it was intended to do with the hope that as he was healthy and played more games it would start to show. It never showed, and only managed to get worse. It is truly one of the more bizarre transactions and storylines I can recall in recent Penguins history. Sheahan and Oleksiak had their moments, but there were never enough of them to make them anything more than what they ended up being: Temporary rentals that were never meant to stick long-term. Hopefully the additions of Bjugstad and McCann can put a stop to the revolving door of players that make up the bottom half of the roster.