In many ways, Bryan Rust is the same player he's always been.
But there is something a little bit different about the 2019-20 version of Bryan Rust. And that's his offensive game.
Rust already has 12 goals in the opening 19 games of the regular season. Rust scored the overtime winner against Columbus and added two more goals and the game-deciding shootout tally Thursday night in a 5-4 victory against Los Angeles at PPG Paints Arena.
After the Penguins fell behind 2-0 in the first period, Rust scored two second-period goals to even the score at 2-2. He had a chance to end the game in overtime - and collect a hat trick - on a breakaway, but couldn't beat goaltender Jonathan Quick.
But Rust saved his best for last. In his first career shootout, Rust faked a shot, pulled the puck to the backhand and went top shelf.
"That's been my move since I was little," he said after the game. "I kind of lost it at the blue line, the ice was brutal. But I regained it and was able to make the move."
The crowd showed its appreciation even before the shootout attempt. As his name was announced as the team's fourth shooter, the crowd let out a belt.
"I heard them. I wasn't expecting it," he said with a grin. "I'm not someone who usually gets those cheers. But it was definitely pretty cool."
Of course, Rust delivered. With an overtime winner and a shootout deciding tally, Rust has been the deciding factor in back-to-back games.
"I am feeling confident right now," Rust said. "I put in some work over the summer to work on my offensive game. It's nice to see that pay off. Hopefully, I can keep working on it, and keep moving forward."
That work paid off immediately this season, as Rust scored in his first game of the year - which came after missing the opening 14 games of the season with an upper-body injury.
"Offensively, in particular, he's making more plays now," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's hanging onto pucks. He's doing a lot of little things that offensive players do to let us score. Hopefully, he can continue that for us."
Rust has hit double digits in goals each of the past three seasons, but he wanted to take his offensive prowess to the next level. So, he worked on the smallest of details in the summer.
"Learning how to read plays better, getting to open ice better, little plays in tight," he said. "Receiving pucks at different angles, forehand, backhand, in different body positions so I can get shots off quicker."
And Rust has been making the most of his recent opportunites. Whether it's playing on the top line with Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel or seeing work on the team's power play, Rust has enjoyed an expanded role with the team due to the various injuries that have befallen the club.
"It helps when you're playing with guys like (Guentzel and Malkin). They can make a lot of plays that other guys can't. It opens up more opportunities," Rust said. He added: "Especially, with power-play time. It's opened up an opportunity for me and I'm trying to make the most of it."
Rust has scored power-play goals in consecutive games and already has a career-high four on the season.
Rust's play couldn't have come at a better time. Pittsburgh is missing its two big guns in Malkin and Sidney Crosby, as well as Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad and Brian Dumoulin. Rust, who is in his fifth NHL season, has stepped up in their absences, both as a leader in the room and on the ice.
"Anytime important guys go out, I like to see myself as one of those guys to step up, elevate my game and rise to the occasion," Rust said.
But don't worry, Rust still has all the intangibles that have made him such a valuable member of the Penguins' organization since joining Pittsburgh full-time during the Stanley Cup-winning 2015-16 season.
"He's always brought the same dimension that his game is built on, that is his speed and tenacity," said Sullivan, who has watched Rust's development over the past five years. "He's just a real solid two-way player. We use him in so many situations. He's great on the penalty kill. I think offensively he has more confidence right now than he's ever had."
Perhaps Rust's hot streak started a season ago. Sort of, anyway.
Rust went goalless in the opening 29 games of last season before ripping off 18 in the final 43, which included a hat trick against Chicago and posting eight goals in an 11-game span. If you include that, Rust has 30 goals in his last 62 contests.
"I think he's really seeing it," Sullivan said. "His speed is so influential no matter where we put him or how we use him. Rust has learned how to play in the traffic in a give-and-go game. His whole overall game has development. He's become a more well-rounded player. He has a much more mature game."