Bryan Rust scored once in his first 29 games last season. It was a nightmarish drought.
But Rust netted a hat trick in his 30th game. That got Rust started.
Since then, Rust hasn't stopped.
Rust tallied 17 times in his last 43 games to finish 2018-19 with 18 goals. This campaign, he's scored 10 goals in his first 18 games. Since netting that hat trick in Chicago on 12.12.18, Rust is scoring at a 36-goal pace.
"It's definitely something I've been working on," the 5-foot-11, 172-pound right winger said. "It's something that's been in the back of my mind over the years.
"You try to work on these little offensive plays in tight, and be able to play with the puck and without the puck. Make real quick plays."
Rust scored the game's only goal in overtime as the Penguins beat Columbus 1-0 at PPG Paints Arena this past Thursday. Kris Letang directed a puck toward the goalmouth with the Pens on a power play. Rust lifted the stick of Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, then used a backhand to guide the disc into the goal.
"Offensively, he probably has more confidence now than he's ever had," said Coach Mike Sullivan after. "He's making more plays. He's hanging onto pucks. He's doing a lot of the little things that offensive players do to help them score."
Rust hasn't ignored the rest of his game: He's also got nine assists and is plus-11.
"He's just a real solid two-way player," Sullivan said. "We use him in so many situations. He's been great on the penalty-kill."
The Penguins' PK was among the NHL's best before struggling in recent weeks. But Rust thinks better days are ahead for that unit.
"We've got to bear down that much harder," Rust said. "Do the little things: Subtle interference, make sure we block shots, make sure we bear down on clears. If we do those things, that's going to give us the best chance to get back on track."
Rust's production has especially come in handy due to the Penguins' plague of injuries. The Penguins topped Columbus despite missing five regulars, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was an unexpected scratch due to illness.
"It's one of those things you've got to shake your head at and laugh it off," Rust said. "Just keep going with what you've got."
Rust is fast. The Penguins are fast. But, perhaps more important, Rust says…
"We're trying to play fast. We're definitely using our speed to our advantage, but we want to get pucks up ice as fast as we can. That's a key part of our success."
Rust's OT goal concluded a stalwart defensive night by both teams and both goalies. Tristan Jarry of the Penguins stopped 17 shots for this third shutout in four games. Columbus' Jonas Korpisalo made 31 saves before Rust's shot got through.
"Anytime there isn't a ton of offense, it can test your mental fortitude," Rust said. "But we did a really good job of staying even-keeled and taking what the game gave us.
"[In overtime], we're just trying to get a little bit of movement and trying to open up some one-timers. It makes it a little more difficult when a lot of the guys who are supposed to be out there aren't playing."
Rust, 27, is in his sixth season with the Penguins. On his career, he's got 62 goals and 72 assists in 271 games. The Michigan native won Stanley Cups in 2016 and '17.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).