Penguins Top Line Shines – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Top Line Shines

With the Penguins taking on the Bruins and the Steelers challenging the Patriots for a Super Bowl berth, it was a huge sports weekend in the ‘Burgh. One with a pronounced Pittsburgh-Boston flavor.

While our Steelers fell short, dropping a lopsided 36-17 decision to the Pats, the Pens salvaged a split—not to mention a little local pride—with a 5-1 victory over the Bruins at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday.


Judging by the final score, another overpowering performance by the on-ice version of the black and gold, who captured their fourth win in a row. However, looks can be deceiving. Clearly the case yesterday.

Following a scoreless first period abbreviated by problems with the ice, Boston piled up a huge edge in shot attempts and zone time. Indeed, the Bruins finished the game with 45 shots on goal, nine more than their hosts.

Still, while the visitors ruled the possession game, the Pens dominated where it mattered most—on the scoreboard.

The top guns led the way. Or should I say, the “top line” guns. Indeed, Sidney Crosby and youthful linemates Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary enjoyed arguably their finest game of the season, combining for four of the Pens’ five goals and nine points altogether. The unit’s second nine-point game in six days.

Sheary, the game’s No. 1 star, paced the attack with two goals and an assist. Crosby and Rust each chipped in with a goal and two assists.

Hardly a surprise, considering the trio has emerged as one of the premier combos in all of hockey. Starting with a five-point effort against New Jersey on December 27, they’ve combined for 16 goals and 40 points over the past 11 games.

Sid leads the group with 16 points during that span. Rust has nine. With nine goals—including three two-goal games—Sheary’s been positively ablaze.

Given his standing as the world’s finest player, Crosby’s production isn’t unexpected. But Sheary and Rust? They’ve developed in a way that nobody could’ve foreseen. Especially for a small-fry forward out of UMass-Amherst who wasn’t even drafted and a former third-round pick from Notre Dame who seemed ticketed for a bottom-six role.

“I’m not going to sit here and suggest to you that I thought he’d have 17 goals halfway through the season,” said Pens coach Mike Sullivan, referring to Sheary. “But I knew he could play in this league and I felt strongly that he could be a solid player at the NHL level. I think his game is just growing by the day.”

The same could be said of Rust, a dogged puck retriever who’s emerged as a surprisingly opportunistic scorer, thanks in part to his blazing speed and non-stop motor.

In many ways, the trio have rediscovered the magic Crosby shared with long-time linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Like Sheary, a pair of undrafted free agents who bucked the odds and developed a special chemistry with No. 87.

Despite his diminutive frame, Conor excels in traffic and around the net, just like “Kuni.” He reads Sid very well and is a master at exploiting the tiniest of openings. And Rust at times appears to be a reincarnation of Dupuis, one of the Pens’ all-time heart-and-soul performers. Minus “Duper’s” booming slap shot, of course.

They’ve blended together like peas and carrots. Or peanut butter and jelly, if you prefer.

All they need now is a catchy nickname.

Murray Slams the Door

While Crosby and his ‘mates were lighting up the scoreboard, Pens goalie Matt Murray did a passable imitation of a brick wall. The Thunder Bay native made 44 saves—21 during the rocky second period—to earn the game’s No. 2 star.

Following a porous outing last Monday, when he yielded seven goals to the Caps, Murray’s limited Montreal, Carolina and Boston to a combined three goals.

His save percentage during that span? A gaudy .968.

“I’m a little bit happier with these last couple games,” Murray said. “You’re never really where you want to be. You’re always looking to improve and you’re always looking to move forward, and get better.”

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  1. JR's Gravatar JR
    January 24, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    On the Crosby-Sheary-Rust line nickname I would suggest the CRS line but that would infer the other CRS, (Can’t remember sh–) and that would definitely not be these three!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 24, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      I was thinking maybe “The Kid’s Line” in deference to Sid’s old nickname and the age of his linemates … 🙂


  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    January 23, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Sorry to here about your Steelers losing in the NFL semi finals. I know that football is really important to the sports fans of Pittsburgh. Always next year though.
    I just read where Connor is the NHL player of the Week. I never imagined in my wildest dreams during last year’s playoffs that he would mature into the scoring threat he is now. As I posted previously and you noted as well, is his uncanny ability to get to where the puck will be. Mike Bossy did the same thing when he played only with a little better shot release. But I can see Connor Sheary scoring 40 goals some day soon. Not to bad at all.
    For me the real question is, What options does this give Jim R. in trying to make a Mega trade for multiple players? Does he pull the trigger now or does he wait until after the season, but just before the deadlines ?
    I too am watching intently for the next 20 games or so to see just what happens. I know changes will be made before the trade deadline in March so it is fun to watch and anticipate what comes next.
    PS : I was told Saturday by a Allen family member that the Blue’s are most definitely keeping Jake.

    Cheers, 🙂

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 23, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Thanks, my friend, for commiserating about our Steelers. Playing the Patriots is a lot like facing Bossy’s Islanders (or worse, the Montreal dynasty of the late ’70s). You have to play a perfect game against them just to have a shot at winning. And the Steelers, most definitely, didn’t play a perfect game.

      I watched Sheary quite closely when he was first called up last December (2015). While the hustle and skill were there, he seemed to spend half his time scraping himself off the ice after a hit. Too small, I thought.

      Again, shows you how very little I know. I never dreamed he’d be this good…or have this much chemistry with Sid.

      Thanks for the insight on Jake Allen. I remember the Blues being really high on him last year.

      Regarding a mega deal. I just don’t see the Pens pulling off a blockbuster trade, do you? I’m guessing Rutherford would like to add a defenseman. But overall, I sense he’s really happy with the group he’s got. I doubt that he’d want to risk altering the team’s chemistry with a big trade involving key players–with the possible exception of Fleury.

      A minor house-cleaning deal or two aside (perhaps involving Pouliot), it really wouldn’t surprise me to see JR stand pat.


      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        January 23, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick
        I am probably the minority in this discussion but I believe MAF will be moved within 30 days.
        I too respect MAF for all he has done for the franchise but looking at my last post you see dramatically that we can not afford him.Period.
        Plus MAF is not doing well with this new arrangement where he plays as a backup and not a starter. Not fair to him either.
        Plus we need to get an upgrade for the d corps. You mention Lovejoy but I really want to see a new face and not a retread from the past.
        Let’s get this behind us and move forward so we can take a serious run to repeat in 2017
        Good article.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          January 24, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          You may be in the minority, but I am sort of there too. I am not as sure that he will be moved but at least that JR is trying to find a deal. to move him. There are a lot of obstacles this year to moving a veteran goalie that is the only reason I hold out a caveat; with the expansion draft and a veteran goalie making what $5.75 mil and with another year left on his contract, combine this with a possible shrinking salary cap, the usual not everyone needs a goalie and the dangers of trading within your own division, there are a lot of obstacles.

          I do have a lot of respect for JR but at this point though I do think he is thinking to structured. I think he is thinking am I getting what I need for Fleury right now in this trade and not thinking what can I parlay the other teams offer up to. Does this team with interest have exactly what I want rather than does this team at least have someone they can offer me that I can then trade elsewhere to get what I need, or maybe does this team have a player that gives me the freedom to trade a player I already have that another team wants in exchange for what I really want.

          • Jim's Gravatar Jim
            January 24, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            Hey Coach.
            You nailed it dead on.
            This is one deal that we are not going to win immediately. Like the Scuderi for Daley deal whereby we had to hold some salary of Scuds for 2 years.
            But the longer you wait to do the deal the worse return for us.
            Good points you raise.

  3. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    January 23, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    We talked about the Crosby-Sheary-Rust line a little on a previous post of yours. All I can say about these guys is Wow! I love watching their play and chemistry. Jim brought up an interesting point though, Sheary is RFA and at the rate he is going he will eat up most, if not all the cap relief of not resigning Kunitz. And if I may add my humble opinion, they need to resign him (Sheary).

    I would like to see them resign Schultz too, but I don’t how that will all play out.

    As for Rust, you and I had a discussion down the gym last year where we both agreed that Rust could be at least a 20 if not 30 goal scorer with even a modicum of offensive skill just on his shear speed and getting the puck to the net, so his success isn’t as surprising to me.

    I just want to sit back and enjoy watching these guys.

    And sneaking under the radar still is Malkin, Guentzel, and Hornqvist. And let’s not forget HBK and the emerging success of the Fehr-Wilson-Kunitz line. With this deep of a fire power, it is no wonder that they can light up the scoreboard and puts tons of pressure on any team they may have to face in the play-offs.

    My only real concern still surrounds the D; 87 total shot attempts against worries me. Murray had to work the back of his front off against Boston, a team that is seriously snake bit at this time, Murray is going to have to be that proverbial Brick wall you alluded to above if the opponent is Columbus or Washington, or even a Big and Heavy LA team.

    But as I wrote I am just sitting here enjoying the ride. Offensively, this team is shaping up to be what I envisioned last year at the end of the year trying to project what these kids would do with a full season and post-season under their belts.

    Go Pens

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 23, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      I have absolutely no concerns about teams like the Rangers or Blackhawks that play a similar up-tempo game. I think we’d blow ’em all away.

      But I, too, worry about how we’d stack up against Columbus, Washington (or Minnesota if we get that far) in a seven-game series.

      Our Achilles heel seems to be dealing with the aggressive forecheck of a heavy team. When it’s mano a mano along the wall for an extended period of time, our quick, stick-on-puck defense breaks down. And if the defense doesn’t move the puck to the forwards…well…remember the final 30 minutes of the 7-1 loss to Columbus?

      It wasn’t pretty.

      I’m not even sure if adding one sizeable defenseman would alleviate the matchup problem. But it might be a step in the right direction.

      So would improvement in the faceoff circle.



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