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Nothing off about Sidney Crosby’s new wingers for Penguins

November 8, 2018

Six games into the season, Sidney Crosby has already played regularly with five wingers. That number will probably continue to rise as the Pittsburgh Penguins seek a top-line combination that has lasting chemistry.

There’s something interesting about the current pair of wingers who are skating alongside the Penguins captain, however.

As the Penguins prepare to face the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, Crosby has been playing with Jake Guentzel on his left wing and Bryan Rust on his right.

The most memorable goals of Guentzel’s career have come on shots from the right wing. Rust’s favorite goal-scoring move starts with him streaking up the left side of the ice.

For the current top-line combination, designations of left wing and right wing mean less than they normally might.

“You end up over there throughout the course of the game a few times anyway,” said Guentzel, who played right wing for a couple of games while center Derick Brassard was bumped up to the left side of the top line. “I don’t think it’s too different.”

Guentzel’s most recent goal, two games ago against Vancouver, came when he skated up the right wing and handcuffed goalie Anders Nilsson with a shot.

The most memorable goal of his career came in Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins were tied 3-3 with the Nashville Predators late in the third period and had gone more than a full period without recording a shot on goal.

Guentzel took a pass from Matt Cullen at the blue line, flew up the right wing, used defenseman Ryan Ellis as a screen and beat goalie Pekka Rinne to the glove side with less than four minutes left to lead the Penguins to victory.

Like so many skilled shooters over the years, Guentzel sees the value in ending up on his off wing from time to time.

“I’ve scored a couple like that,” Guentzel deadpanned. “When you have your stick in the middle of the ice, you have more of an angle to make the goalie second-guess a little bit. It’s nice when you have the chance to shoot it from that wing.”

Rust’s favorite move, meanwhile, comes when he uses his speed to fly past a defender on the left wing, then cuts to the middle of the ice and tries to beat the goalie to the far post. It’s a move he started using during his Notre Dame days.

“Coach told me to go to the net, so I went to the net,” he said.

Rust said it’s something he can do from any spot on the ice.

“I do like that move, but honestly, I think coming from the right or the left, there’s opportunities to do it both when you’re slashing across from the right-wing position or you’re going up the boards from the left-wing position,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what side you’re on.”

Rust is without a goal six games into the season, incidentally, so at this point, he’d take one no matter where it comes from.

“Just trying to piece things together,” Rust said. “Have to play a full game, keep getting better, keep getting chances, then things will happen.”

If some of Rust and Guentzel’s most memorable goals have come from their off wings, it’s reasonable to wonder why they just don’t line up there all the time in the first place.

The answer is that a line that handles so many passes on the backhand might end up having turnover problems. Instead, they’ll just savor the off-wing scoring chances when they arise.

“There are some positives to playing your off side, being able to have your stick in the middle when you’re attacking,” Rust said. “There’s a few negatives, making a lot of plays on your backhand. There’s give and take.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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