Chad Ruhwedel helps Penguins breathe easier with first goal of season
NEWARK, N.J. – The Pittsburgh Penguins heaved a collective sigh of relief when they finally beat the last-place New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
It was only fitting, then, that the game-winning goal was scored by a player celebrating a monkey being extricated from his back as well.
Chad Ruhwedel scored his first goal of the season late in the second period, leading the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.
“First of the year, get it in the second half,” Ruhwedel said. “It’s been a while. It felt good. I’m not going to lie.”
Ruhwedel’s first goal came in just his 15th game of the season, but he hasn’t missed any time due to injuries. He hasn’t been able to regularly crack the top six on a team that has carried as many as nine healthy NHL-caliber players on the blue line this season, but the Penguins valued him too much to risk losing him on waivers en route to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
So he did a lot of sitting.
Eventually, dominoes began to fall to get him into the lineup. First, Jamie Oleksiak was traded back to Dallas. Then, on Feb. 11, Olli Maatta got hurt, and with Justin Schultz yet to return from a broken leg, Ruhwedel’s number was called.
He performed well enough to beat out Juuso Riikola for a jersey once Schultz was back in the lineup.
He’s appeared in four straight games since, with his ice time growing to 19 minutes, 15 seconds Tuesday night.
“Definitely motivated, eager,” Ruhwedel said. “Getting a couple games in, starting to feel a little more up to speed and normal out there. Just the more games, the more touches you get, the better you feel.”
Ruhwedel’s goal came at the end of an effective shift for the Penguins’ second line. He took a pass from Evgeni Malkin at the blue line and blasted a shot past the waving stick of Zach Aston-Reese and in under the crossbar.
The goal gave the Penguins a 4-2 lead, and it proved critical when Miles Wood slid a puck past Matt Murray late in the third period.
“We had a real positive bench tonight,” Ruhwedel said. “Guys were really upbeat. Nobody got down. We just stuck to our game plan and worked our way back.”
Added to the scoring Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson and Brian Dumoulin did Sunday afternoon against the Rangers, Penguins defensemen have scored five goals in the past two games. Ruhwedel said he thinks the scoring surge from the blue line isn’t just happenstance.
“We know that’s part of our team dynamic, for the D to be in the offense, in the offensive zone, in the rush, etc,” Ruhwedel said. “It’s something we’re going to try to stick to.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .