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Bottom-Six Forwards Proving Worth

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

For a while there, the Pens’ bottom-six had done everything but score. They were playing well defensively, being physical and bringing energy and momentum to the game. That’s certainly changed the last couple of games.

After Scott Wilson got his first NHL goal in Thursday’s 6-3 win over Detroit, he and Tom Kuhnhackl scored the only tallies in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay.

“Building off me getting that first one and ‘Kuhny’ getting one tonight, it means a lot to all of us,” Wilson said. “Not necessarily just the guys who are scoring too, but everyone.”

Kuhnhackl’s goal was the first of his career as well – and what an absolute beauty it was. While players never forget their first goal, I don’t think anyone else will be forgetting that any time soon either.

“It’s special for Kuhny. It’s nice we’re all here for it,” Wilson said. “For him to get that one, and a beauty at that, I know it means a lot to him and all of us.”

The 24-year-old was a pure offensive player in major junior hockey. He scored 39 in 63 games during the 2010-11 season for the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires – as he told us, “I would just float around at the blue line and just wait for the pass or scoring chances.”

When he turned pro, then-WBS head coach John Hynes and his staff told him that’s not how to succeed at this level and developed him into a defensively-responsible player. We’ve seen that this year – particularly when it comes to his penalty killing prowess – but tonight we got a glimpse of that scoring ability.

With Trevor Daley in the box early in the first period, head coach Mike Sullivan sent Kuhnhackl over the boards for a shorthanded shift. Kuhnhackl made a tremendous play to chip the puck to himself past Victor Hedman and go in on a 2-on-1 with Kevin Porter, where he deked to his backhand and roofed it into the top corner.

He completely fooled Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who kept his glove low probably assuming Kuhnhackl would be able to get that much air on the shot. He was wrong.

“To be honest, at first I just tried to get it out and then I saw I had a step on (Hedman) and just used my speed,” Kuhnhackl said. “I saw on the prescout that the last couple goals (Bishop) gave up glove side high, so I tried to put it there and glad it went in.

“It’s a nice first goal, but I would rather have the two points than that goal.”

Meanwhile, after the game against Detroit, Wilson – who led the American Hockey League in goals at the time of his most recent call-up – said it felt like it had been forever since he’d scored. Now, he’s got two in as many games. When I asked him what has sparked this outburst, he told me confidence.

“After the first one, we had a couple good games before. Last game as well,” he said. “So I think just building on that has helped me a lot and I think all the other guys as well.”

Bryan Rust had said the other day that they were getting a whole bunch of opportunities on tips, line rushes, plays below the goal line.

“We’re getting all the chances we could hope for, but we’re all a little snake bitten right now,” he said. “The bounces aren’t going our way. But it’s positive that we’re getting our chances.”

And now, they’re starting to fall.

“It feels great,” Kuhnhackl said. “The last little while, the bottom-6, we just grinded it out. We couldn’t really get on the scoresheet. It feels great the last couple games we got on the scoresheet.”

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