Don't look now, but Nick Bonino is starting to heat up.
After registering just two points in an 11-game stretch, Bonino has five points in his last three contests, including his second career hat trick Wednesday night in Pittsburgh's 7-4 win at Winnipeg.
"Sometimes three go in, sometimes none go in for a few games," Bonino said. "(Wednesday) was one of those nights where the puck went in."
It went in three times that night to give Bonino 12 goals on the season, three more than he posted in the entire 2015-16 season. While his 28 points is 1 shy of matching his total of 29 from last year.
"I'm pretty much at the same pace I'm always at goal-wise," he said.
The entire team was happy to see Bonino score the trifecta. After all, he is one of the hardest working players on the team, both in practice and in games. But for all his hard work, Bonino has struggled at times to score. The dam finally burst in Manitoba.
"The fact that he got a hat trick, we're thrilled for him because we know how hard he works and hasn't gotten rewarded for his effort from a production standpoint," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're hopeful moving forward down the stretch that he starts to catch fire offensively, and his line in particular, produces for us offensively."
Bonino was a key contributor to last season's Stanley Cup championship. Not only did he score clutch goals like the series-winning overtime goal in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals, but he also led the team with 14 assists while anchoring the famous HBK Line.
But Bonino also struggled for much of last year's regular season to not only score goals, but to produce any offense. He didn't really excel until late in the year when the HBK Line was assembled in March. In his last 13 games of the regular-season he totaled 16 points (5G-11A), including a five-point game in Detroit on March 26.
The Pens are hoping that he can repeat that late run performance.
"I think it makes us that much more difficult to play against," Sullivan said. "'Bones' is a very good player. He has the ability to generate offense. He can play at both ends of the rink. We use him in so many key situations. He plays the second power play. He's one of our top penalty killers. He's a real solid all-around player.
"If he starts catching fire, like (Wednesday), when that happens I think we're that much harder to play against as a group."
It was on the power play with the second unit that Bonino scored two of his three goals against the Jets. But don't expect him to start lobbying for more man-advantage time.
"That top unit is so talented and score so many goals," he said. "Anything the second unit can do to chip in is always great. When we get out there we just want to make sure we shoot."
Shooting more is what helped Bonino score his first hat trick since Feb. 2, 2013 against Los Angeles. And it all started with his first goal just 4:43 into the game.
"After you get one you get a little more confidence," he said. "I started shooting more in the second and third (period). It just went in. I just tried to get the puck off quick and hope they went in, and they did."