Anytime a hockey player joins a group where the only other members are Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, that’s a special place to be no matter the circumstances or fine print associated to get there. So it goes for Bryan Rust, whose absolutely incredible start to 2022 (7 goals + 4 assists in three games) has him in the most elite of all hockey circles.
It’s just a legitimately fun experience right now to watch Penguins hockey. They’re lighting up the scoreboard and so many players are hitting on all cylinders. No one more so than Rust at the moment.
Guentzel on Rust: "He's playing at a high pace right now and it's just fun to watch. When he's shooting like that and playing with his speed, he could be one of the better players in this league... It's just fun to be a part of it and see it every day." pic.twitter.com/dP6VQXUeli— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 7, 2022
Almost everything is clicking, as it typically does on a ten game winning streak. I thought something close to peep last night in the exchange below when realizing the Pens have a double-digit winning streak now. They ran the Flyers out of their own building in a 6-2 demolition. (And yeah, the Flyers are ridiculously short-handed due to illness and injury. Given the history and difficulty the Penguins have had in Philadelphia over the years, I don’t care if they suit up Gritty, 100-year old Bobby Clarke and actual clowns, a Penguin win over the Flyers will always be awesome).
Anyways, point being, it’s going to be difficult to feel any better than last night, with all the vibes from Rust, Evan Rodrigues, Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Tristan Jarry. Each and every one of those key players are peaking, beyond peaking maybe with the output and success they are finding at the moment. Nothing good lasts forever, and it can only stay so great for so long, so is it a bit bittersweet that the season perhaps hit a zenith in early January?
Fair. Couple things. We never know how long hot lasts. But, at the same time, we haven't even seen the finished product of this roster assembly. So we can philosophically ask some questions based off of that, too.— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) January 7, 2022
Like Jesse said, you never know what the future can hold. Ideally, you could tell Rust to bottle up averaging almost four points a game for the playoffs, but of course life and hockey doesn’t work that way.
Also, try this perspective on for size — for at least 27 or 28 other teams around the league, they won’t have a moment as good as last night this season when the Pens hit a 10-game winning streak by absolutely embarrassing and out-classing their biggest rival in their own building. Probably 90% or more of teams in the league would love for something that great to happen for them this year and won’t even get a moment that nice.
So, that’s something, even if it turns out in a few months to be as good as it will get for Pittsburgh, hey that’s still pretty darn good.
Sidney Crosby, the consummate winner, is at it again.
This is crazy from @PR_NHL: Sid has appeared in 10 or more consecutive wins for the third time in his career. Only NHL player who's been in more? Matt Cooke (?!): 15 GP in 2012-13, 12 GP in 2010-11, 11 GP in 2011-12 & 10 GP in 2002-03.— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) January 7, 2022
Would have been my first guess... not.
Crosby has been heating up big time too, here’s the NHL’s leading scorers since the day after Thanksgiving:
And where would Guentzel be with about five or six more games?
How Mike Sullivan incorporates the returning Evgeni Malkin is going to be a fascinating case study to see what direction he wants to go. There’s a lot of developing evidence to keep Rodrigues and Kapanen together, and Sullivan has proven in the past (HBK line of 2016) to acknowledge and keep a good thing going.
Kasperi Kapanen on the ice with Evan Rodrigues this season (223 mins):— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) January 7, 2022
13 goals for
1 goal against
60.8% xG share
Kasperi Kapanen on the ice without Evan Rodrigues (214 mins):
3 goals for
6 goals against
46.2% xG share
(Natural Stat Trick)
Does Sullivan make a Rodrigues-Malkin-Kapanen line and have Jason Zucker with Jeff Carter and Danton Heinen to go along with his Crosby line and his defensive Teddy Blueger checking line? Woo, that is quite the thought.
As always just keeping the 12 best forwards all healthy and uninjured hasn’t even happened for one single game this year, and may not ever happen. Pittsburgh has enough extra material to work with to fill in the edges and gaps that develop, but the forward depth and strength of this team looks very formidable and very impressive.
And, who knows, maybe just maybe this is a team that has not achieved its final peak just yet.