Gameday 56: Bad Timin’

The Pittsburgh Penguins have strung together consecutive wins for just the second time in 2024 after Sunday’s wacky 7-6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. With an 8-8-4 record since the turn of the calendar year, Pittsburgh is fortunate to not be further out of the playoff race than they are. The Carolina Hurricanes have the best record in the Metropolitan Division with a .714 points percentage, followed by the New York Rangers at a .625 points percentage. The rest of the division is around a .500 record, but most importantly the Penguins have a better record than three of their four rivals they are battling for the third place spot the Flyers currently hold, and Pittsburgh is narrowly behind Philadelphia. With the way the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning have been playing (2nd-best and 9th-best records since January 1, respectively), the Penguins best shot to make the playoffs would seem to be to overtake at least the Flyers for third in the Metropolitan Division.


The biggest story to come out of Sunday’s game was an injury to another of Sidney Crosby’s usual linemates, Bryan Rust, whose last shift in the game came just before Drew O’Connor’s goal in the first half of the third period. As of this writing it’s not known if Rust will miss any games with this new injury, but with Jake Guentzel already on the shelf the scoring quality of Pittsburgh’s roster is diminishing at exactly the wrong time. They’ve headed out on their annual trip to the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian prairies (seems late in the season for this) with games against three teams that have been very strong defensively as of late (Seattle, Edmonton and Calgary are all in the top 10 in fewest goals allowed per game since the New Year), and that’s not even mentioning the Vancouver Canucks who presently have the best record in the NHL and have been one of the top ten defensive and goaltending teams in the League all season. The Penguins are going to need all the goals they can get, and if Rust joins Guentzel on the injury list for very long, it’s going to be interesting to see just who is going to provide those goals.

Moreover this may complicate the calculus for general manager Kyle Dubas as far as how to navigate the trade deadline next Friday. It didn’t seem like Rust’s injury would be the sort to necessitate his being put on long-term injured reserve, so there likely won’t be the associated relief on his salary. In the context of the salary cap, as we are all likely aware, there’s not much room to work with, but also there was the chatter that Rust may be on the trading block as well. His value is seemingly lower than that of Guentzel, but Rust is still nearly a point-per-game player and he also has a good playoff pedigree. It will certainly be harder to move Rust if he’s injured, so one way or another let’s hope that he’s not too bad off.