Updated 2 hours ago
Bryan Rust remains a full 20 goals behind Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals.
At this rate, though, Rust should be a lock for the Rocket Richard Trophy. And could Mario Lemieux’s franchise season record really be THAT out of reach?
Rust scored both goals Thursday to give him eight over his past six games and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a victory for the second consecutive night, 2-1 against the Minnesota Wild.
Rust has as many regular-season goals over the past nine days as he had over the previous 315 days. He’d had one in 29 games this season and in his previous 35 dating to last season overall until his hat trick Dec. 12 at Chicago.
For further perspective, before his recent splurge, Rust had that many over his previous 57 regular-season games.
“I have no clue,” Rust said, figuratively shrugging while not even trying to explain his hot streak. “I also don’t know how to explain the 1 in 29 to start the year. Sometimes that’s how hockey goes.”
Rust’s winner came with 11 minutes, 48 seconds left in regulation, and it marked the second time in a 24-hour span that he broke a 1-1 tie with the winning goal. Wednesday, he was credited with the winner late in the second period of a win at the Washington Capitals.
“It’s going in right now for him,” coach Mike Sullivan said, “and we’re thrilled for him.”
The Penguins preserved the in by killing 97 seconds of Minnesota power-play time after a hooking minor was assessed to Juuso Riikola with 3 minutes and 37 seconds left in regulation.
The win wasn’t the most stylistic this season, or even one of the better games the Penguins have played. But in context, it’s an impressive one because it was the back end of a back-to-back that included travel after a high-intensity victory against a bitter division rival.
At times this season, the Penguins have struggled against teams with profiles like that of the Wild (3-7-0 in their past 10).
“I thought that was our biggest challenge to get reinvested after a real emotional game last night,” Sullivan said. “That game had a playoff feel, but our guys came with a lot of energy (Thursday).”
Despite allowing an iffy goal to Jordan Greenway early in the first period, Casey DeSmith made 41 saves to improve to 8-2-2 with a .933 save percentage at home this season.
The Penguins improved to 7-2-1 both over their past 10 overall and their past 10 at PPG Paints Arena.
Neither of Rust’s goals were particularly high in degree of difficulty on his part; both were off set-ups from Jake Guenztel. On the first, perhaps a second assist could have been credited to Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who (unintentionally) appeared deliver what ended up a perfect pass to Guentzel after he’d gone behind his own net to play a puck with 7 ½ minutes left in the second period.
That extended Rust’s goal streak to four games. The winner came as Rust cruised down the slot without any hindrance from a Minnesota defender, and Guentzel set him up to slap it past Dubnyk. Guentzel had come from the left-wing corner and behind the net, appearing to set up a wraparound attempt.
“The first one, it doesn’t get much easier than that,” Rust said. “And the second one, I came down the middle screaming and (Guentzel) found me.”
That’s been a theme in recent days for Rust. His goal Wednesday, for example, was initially credited to Sidney Crosby before further review apparently determined that Rust was the last Penguin to touch the puck.
Then again, after going without a goal for more than a quarter of a season (21 games) before this stretch, Rust probably deserves some luck.
“A lot of them haven’t been the prettiest goals – but he’s in the right place at the right time,” DeSmith said. “He’s feeling it. He knows where to be, and when he gets there he’s finishing. He’s always around the net and that’s how he’s scoring a lot of his goals, so it’s good to see.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.