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Rust proving to be a jack of all trades

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

Bryan Rust is known for scoring big goals, not a lot of goals.

Oh, Rust's career high - he netted 15 last season - is respectable.

But Rust has eight goals in 15 Stanley Cup playoff games where elimination loomed for one or both teams. That's spectacular.

Perhaps Rust's clutch gene is why he often gets a chance to skate alongside the Penguins' pedigreed superstars. Recent games have seen Rust bounce back and forth between Sidney Crosby's wing and Evgeni Malkin's wing.

"Playing with Geno, it's a little more straight line," Rust said. "Trying to create some space for him behind the D, and trying to keep moving - darting in and out of spaces.

"Sid doesn't necessarily want or need the puck all the time. It's more give-and-go with him."

Coach Mike Sullivan feels comfortable using Rust anywhere in the lineup: On either wing, and on any line.

"He can play the left side. He can play the right side," Sullivan said. "We can play him up and down the lineup. He can play on our checking line, and he can play with our skilled guys.

"What we love about his game is, he just plays the same way. He's a speed guy. He plays a north-south game. He chases defensemen down. He chases pucks down. He creates opportunities through his speed and his pursuit. And he has good awareness defensively. He's a 200-foot player."

After 56 games, Rust had 10 goals and 23 assists. The latter stat is a career high by a whopping 10 helpers. Thirty-three points is also a season best for the 5-foot-11, 192-pounder.

Not bad after what Rust characterized as a lengthy subpar patch, and an injury that caused him to miss almost all of January.

Rust started out with a goal and seven assists in his first seven games, but got just a goal and three assists in his next 18 contests.

"At the start of the year, I was playing pretty well, but the pucks just weren't going in," said the University of Notre Dame product. "Things were happening, but then I kind of hit a lull.

"For about a month or so, I didn't like my game. Then I got hurt. I hit the reset button and kind of watched from up top, and looked at film a bit. I came out, worked hard, got some confidence, and tried to ride with it."

Rust returned from injury Jan. 23 and got an assist in a 3-1 home win over Carolina. He had three goals and an assist in the two subsequent games and has been a relatively steady contributor since.

Rust is part of the Penguins' penalty-kill unit, which ranks 13th in the NHL with a success rate of 81.7 percent.

"The last couple games, [the PK has] been good," said the Michigan native after the Penguins beat Calgary, 3-2 in overtime, Monday night at PPG Paints Arena. "We hit a bit of a lull for three or five games prior to that. But we just got back to working hard, trying to work as a unit, and trying to get those 200-foot clears. And when we have the chance, we want to be aggressive."

The Penguins have netted six shorthanded goals on the season. Rust has two of those, along with a shorthanded assist.

Rust thinks the Penguins are adjusting well to the Feb. 23 trade that sent defenseman Ian Cole (briefly) to Ottawa and brought center Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh.

"For a game or so, you've maybe got to get a feel for how a guy plays, and his tendencies," Rust said. "After that, it's just business as usual."

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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