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Irish teammates clash in Pittsburgh

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Since being called up on Jan. 9, Detroit-area native Bryan Rust has two goals in 15 games with the Penguins. (Photo by Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – It’s been nearly four years since Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan skated together in a competitive setting.

The last time was probably back in South Bend, Indiana, where the pair where linemates at the University of Notre Dame. Tonight, the former Irish forwards will faceoff as advisories when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Red Wings at Consol Energy Center.

“He came in when I was sophomore,” said Sheahan, referring to the 2010-11 college season. “He was a great kid. We’re good friends now, and he was a big Red Wings fan growing up in Michigan, so we always talk about guys’ habits and things like that. It’s fun to keep in touch with guys like that.”

The Penguins’ third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Rust has played in 34 NHL games, including 20 this season. But tonight will be the first time he goes against his hometown Red Wings.

The 23-year-old Oakland County native, who attended Brother Rice High School before transferring to Pioneer High after joining the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, has had this game marked on his calendar for months.

“At the beginning of the year I glanced at the schedules to see when we’re playing the Wings because that’s kind of the one team that I would look forward to playing against,” he said. “This is my first time being able to do that, so it’s something that I circled at the beginning of the year while hoping that I could be up here at this time and hope that I was playing well enough to be in the lineup. I was fortunate enough to have it happen.”

Rust has played well for the Pens without being overly conservative in his approach. He has shown acumen for taking some risk since being recalled for a second time this season from Wilkes-Barre Scranton. He has two goals, including a game winner at Montreal (Jan. 9), in 20 games.

One of four Michigan-born players currently on the Penguins’ roster, Rust is expected to play tonight on the third line with center Oskar Sundqvist and forward Tom Kuhnkackl – two other minor-league call ups since early January.

“He’s very skilled,” Sheahan said of Rust. “I don’t want to say he knows that because he’s the furthest thing from cocky or anything like that. He’s confident and you need to be like that at this level, so he makes good plays, he’s a good skater, he’s good defensively. I think all around he’s a good player. I’m not surprised he’s at this level.”

The Pens’ other Michigan natives are goalie Jeff Zatkoff, center Kevin Porter and defenseman Ian Cole.

Rust’s older brother also has ties to the Red Wings. Matt Rust played four years at the University of Michigan, where he played alongside Luke Glendening for three seasons.

Gustav Nyquist
Right Wing  - DET
Goals: 14 | Assists: 17 | Pts: 31
Shots: 118 | +/-: -2
DOWN THE STRETCH: With only 25 games left, there isn’t much time for the Red Wings to lock down a playoff spot while extending their impressive postseason streak to 25 consecutive seasons.

Currently, the Wings are one of two teams with a negative goal differential that are holding on to a playoff position. The Wings have scored one fewer goals than the 147 goals allowed but are in third place with 67 points in the Atlantic Division trailing first-place Florida (72 points) and second-place Boston (68). New Jersey, which holds the Eastern Conference’s first wild card – by one point over Pittsburgh – has a minus-6 goal differential.

The Wings know they can’t afford to finish this season like they did a year ago when they posted a 10-11-4 record in the final seven weeks to end with 100 points.

“That’s been like that all year,” Wings forward Gustav Nyquist said. “You feel like you go on a small little run, take points in five straight games and win four of them, but you’re not really running away with a good lead. A lot of teams are right there in the mix, five, six points, there’s not a lot of difference between the teams. For sure a big two points tonight.”

Pavel Datsyuk
Center  - DET
Goals: 12 | Assists: 22 | Pts: 34
Shots: 111 | +/-: 14
PAVEL TIME: Pavel Datsyuk brings a six-game point streak into tonight’s game in Pittsburgh. The Wings’ veteran center, has six goals and four assists during that span, was named NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday.

Of the 14 active players to reach the 900-points plateau, only Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, Patrik Elias and Jerome Iginla are older than Datsyuk, who turns 38 in July.

“I think looking at age is more for you guys,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “For us in here we know what we have in him, and it really is just tremendous what he can do out there. Even if he wasn’t putting up the points, he’s still playing an unbelievable game. And now lately, it’s like taking his game to another level, and it’s pretty entertaining to watch. I think it also helps him to be paired back with Hank again. You can just tell how much fun he’s having.”

DAY-TO-DAY D: Kronwall (knee surgery) and Jonathan Ericsson (lower-body injury) continue to be day to day, though one of the defenseman is closer to returning than the other.

For the second straight day, Kronwall skated with the Wings, joining them Thursday in the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. Ericsson hasn’t skated since the injury against Colorado last Friday.

Blashill won’t rule out either blue liner for this weekend, though Ericsson, more than likely, won’t be available for either of the weekend games – at Ottawa on Saturday and the New York Rangers on Sunday.

“I’d say Kronwall is closer than Ericsson,” Blashill said. “I don’t foresee Ericsson playing though the weekend here. I reserve the right to change that because it is a day-to-day injury and all the suddenly he might feel a lot better. But Kronwall had a full practice yesterday, did a real good job in practice. We battled a bit; it was a fairly hard practice and came out of it good. He’ll skate today after, we’ll practice tomorrow and then evaluate where he’s at for the weekend.”

Anthony Mantha

ON THE FARM: Anthony Mantha recorded a couple of firsts on Wednesday. The Red Wings’ first-round pick in the 2013 NHL draft had his first career hat trick, as well as four-point night, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 4-1 victory over Milwaukee.

The 21-year-old Mantha scored in each period and added an assist as the Griffins toppled a first-place Admirals.

Wings general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Ryan Martin were in Grand Rapids to observe Wednesday’s game and came away impressed with Mantha’s efforts.

“They were down there last night and said he played really good,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He didn’t just get a hat trick, he scored NHL goals. He did a real good job. There’s some areas of the game he’s got to make sure he continues to improve at, plays on the wall to get pucks out, breaking out of his zone. Those are going to be critical things because when you get up here you’re only allowed a couple of mistakes and if you stay in your zone lots it’s real hard to create offense. From Anthony’s perspective I’m glad to hear he’s played good, I’m glad he’s gaining confidence offensively and scoring goals. That’s what he was drafted to do, score. He’s a great kid, he wants to get better. He needs to continue to do all those little things great in order to put himself in the best position when the opportunity arises here.”

However, that time might be later than soon, as Blashill doesn’t see a scenario in the immediate future where Mantha would be called up to make his NHL debut.

“For me personally, we’d have to be convinced he could beat out a Tats or Larkin or Zetterberg or Abdelkader and be in a situation where he was on one of those top two lines and be able to beat those guys out,” Blashill said. “I got a line with Sheahan, Glendening and Helm that’s been great since we put them together. They do a great job of creating O-zone time and energy, playing against the other team’s best lines, so now you’re down to another line that’s going to play seven minutes if you’re not on specialty teams. So again that to me doesn’t make any sense to put (Mantha) in that situation when he’s finally starting to gain confidence. I watched him lose his confidence last year. I know how that goes in the American League, you got to really continue to make sure you put people in the right spot to continue to build their confidence. So unless we’re convinced he’s going to beat one of those guys out in those top two lines I don’t see a scenario where that happens.”

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