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Speedy Teddy Blueger plays big role in the Penguins' fast game

by Mark Madden / 105.9 the X

Teddy Blueger is fast.

But is he the fastest player on the Penguins? Who's faster, Blueger or Brandon Tanev?

"Tanev," replied Blueger.

By a lot? "No."

Tanev vs. Blueger would be an interesting race. But when both play on the same line (as they often do), it's the opposition that huffs and puffs.

The Penguins have won two straight with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both hurt, with Blueger's play at center being a big boost in their absence. The 25-year-old Latvian has four goals and five assists in 33 games this season.

Blueger's latest goal came Saturday in the Penguins' 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings at PPG Paints Arena. Blueger jammed home a loose puck from in tight to give the Pens a 3-2 lead at 9:26 of the third period.

"Obviously, it always feel great to score," Blueger said. "It was kind of an important time in the game, but any goal feels great."

Blueger is a big part of the Penguins going fast again. Speed was a trademark of the 2016 and '17 Stanley Cup winners, and GM Jim Rutherford did a re-load in that department over the past year by trading for Jared McCann, promoting Blueger from the Pens' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team and signing Tanev in free agency.

"It's kind of a trend overall in the league that you're seeing," Blueger said. "[Speed is] our strength as a team. We try to be quick with the puck, and obviously the foot speed, too. We try to bring it all together."

Is playing fast as important as being fast?

"For sure," Blueger replied. "On any regroups in the neutral zone, and in the offensive zone, we try to make plays as quick as possible.

"On the flip side, when you're defending against a team that's playing fast, it's tough to defend. We want to be a team that's tough to play against."

Blueger's usual line is very quick. It includes wingers Tanev and Zach Aston-Reese.

"[That line] feels good," Blueger said. Tanny brings a lot of energy and speed on the forecheck. Reeser is physical and good at the net front and on wall battles. We kind of complement each other in different ways."

Blueger (6-foot, 185 pounds) is winning 47 percent of his faceoffs. The Penguins would like better from all their centers. To that end, ex-Penguin Matt Cullen has been providing guidance at practice.

"With Cully, it's great to have his expertise and skill level," Blueger said. "He's been through it all.

"We just kind of work on different nuances. Try to improve certain aspects in the faceoff circle. Grow the repertoire, and strategies in certain situations. It's been good."

The Penguins have been battling a plague of injuries almost the entire season. They were missing five regulars in the victory over the Kings.

"Nothing changes [in our locker room]," Blueger said. "It's out of our control. Each guy tries to control what he can, and bring his best game. When we put it together, I think we've got a really good team regardless of who's in the lineup.

"I think we can play against anyone regardless of who's in or out. We've got good depth. We believe in each other and we play for each other."

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

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