The Penguins story is a story of struggle. Devastating injuries and surprise positive COVID tests have popped up for 2021-22, and possibly could have derailed a season before it even began. Sidney Crosby has played one game out of 12 so far this season, which is one more than Evgeni Malkin has. Bryan Rust missed three weeks with an injury. Jake Guentzel missed the start of the season. Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang have missed four separate games a piece. Even Jeff Carter had his time in protocol.
That doesn’t leave much in the way of constants, but the Pens have had a few. Tristan Jarry has started 10 of the team’s 12 games, and played extremely well with seven “quality starts” and zero “really bad starts”. That has given Pittsburgh a chance. John Marino has played every game, as have Teddy Blueger, Brock McGinn and Jason Zucker — all staples and important players who have pitched in over the course of different games.
But the player who is tied with Guentzel as the Pens’ leading scorer through 12 games, and also tied for their leading goal-scorer has also emerged as a quality option in Pittsburgh this season. He’s played center, he’s played wing. He’s done it well and while no one will mistake Evan Rodrigues for filling the shoes of Crosby or Malkin, the Pens have needed someone to step in and step up, and Rodrigues has fit the bill.
Yeah, almost everytime when Crosby or/and Malkin is/are injured, some career bottom-six player has became a TOP player asap. This season, it's Evan Rodrigues, as everyone expected, haha. pic.twitter.com/JtTLKGB4I7— Andy & Rono (@HockeyStatsCZ) November 9, 2021
While no one will confuse Rodrigues for Crosby or Malkin, he’s had a knack for timeliness this season. His goal last night against Florida came late in the second period to give the Pens a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
“That was huge. As a line, even our power play unit - I don’t think we had a great second [period],” Rodrigues said after the game. “We had too many turnovers, a lot of odd-man rushes back and forth, and with that team [Florida] with how much skill they have, that’s a dangerous game to play. To get one at the end of the period there, to turn that period around, was a definitely a nice feeling.”
It was more than nice even, given the significance of the Pens’ success with late leads. Pittsburgh is now 104-1-4 in the Mike Sullivan era when leading at home after two periods, the meaning and importance of that goal can’t be under-stated. It put the Pens in position to drive home with a win (which they did, although taking the hard way to get there).
Rodrigues’ value has been in his ability to contribute a little bit of everything. Faceoffs. Power play. 3-on-3 overtime. A few takeaways. He’s been all over the ice and about done it all. According to Moneypuck.com, The Zucker-Rodrigues-Kapanen line has the top expected goals percentage in the league so far this season:
The Penguins are no strangers to being led to wins by strong center play, but right now it’s been Rodrigues and Carter doing a lot of that heavy lifting instead of Crosby and Malkin. In the last four games, Pittsburgh is 2-0-2 and has found a way to only lose three times in regulation in the first 12 games. The Pens are treading water and finding a way not to sink, and it’s the efforts and surprising contributions from players like Rodrigues who are helping keep the team afloat until the stars can return.