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Rodrigues’ breakout season is coming (mostly) independent of Crosby

Plenty of Penguins wingers have their breakout NHL season solely thanks to time on Crosby’s wing. Rodrigues doesn’t appear to be one of them.

NHL: DEC 19 Penguins at Devils
Sidney Crosby and Evan Rodrigues talk during the third period against the New Jersey Devils on December 19, 2021.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sometimes, Penguins wingers have their breakout NHL season solely thanks to time on Sidney Crosby’s wing. Rodrigues doesn’t appear to be one of them.

On Saturday night, Rodrigues skated alongside Sidney Crosby for the 15th time this season.

It’s easy to guess that Rodrigues’ breakout NHL season— 37 games in, and he’s already eclipsed his career-high points total of 29— came thanks to this time alongside Crosby. In fact, just five of Rodrigues’ 30 points in 2021-22 have involved the Penguins captain.

This latest opportunity on the first line, offered to Rodrigues after Bryan Rust joined the Penguins’ COVID-19 protocol list four games ago, seemed well-deserved given his performance through the season so far; heading into Saturday, with 23 points at even strength through 36 games, Rodrigues trailed only Jake Guentzel (27 points) for the team lead in 5v5 production.

Let’s break down the timeline of when Rodrigues has gotten opportunities on the first line, and when he’s scored his 23 even-strength points. (Data from Natural Stat Trick, hockey-reference.)

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins
Kapanen celebrates a goal against the Montreal Canadiens with Rodrigues on December 14.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

10/12-10/28: 7 games; at EV, 2 goals, 2 assists; 16:44 ATOI; usual linemates: Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen

10/30, Rodrigues joins Crosby for the first time: Crosby made his season debut after recovering from offseason wrist surgery, and with Bryan Rust out week-to-week with a lower body injury, Rodrigues was bumped up to the first line. He skated 12:22 alongside Crosby at 5v5, during which the line didn’t score, and was on the ice for one goal against.

Rodrigues then returned as second-line center in the absence of Evgeni Malkin.

11/4-11/24: 11 games; at EV, 4 goals, 5 assists; 15:15 ATOI; usual linemates: Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen

11/26-12/19, Rodrigues spends 11 games on the first line: After Rust is a last-minute scratch against the Islanders on November 26, Rodrigues was called up just before game time to play on Crosby’s wing. While on the ice at 5v5, the first line scored eight goals and were on the ice for four against, averaging a dominant 61.33 CF%; Rodrigues was credited with six 5v5 assists.

NHL: JAN 05 Blues at Penguins
Rodrigues celebrates his goal with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby against the St. Louis Blues on January 5.
Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1/2-1/6: 3 games; at EV, 3 goals, 1 assist; 17:15 ATOI; usual linemates: Danton Heinen, Kasperi Kapanen

1/8-1/15, Rodrigues rejoins the first line and goes blank: With red-hot Rust gone again, the Crosby line hasn’t been its usual self: according to Natural Stat Trick, through three games at even strength, the trio scored one goal and allowed one against while on the ice, far from its usual dominant ratio. Rodrigues has now been held off the scoreboard for four games.

In summation: through 37 games, Rodrigues put up 17 points (nine goals, 14 assists) at even strength and away from Crosby.

You’ve got to give him credit— those are impressive conditions under which to record your breakout NHL season in Pittsburgh.