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Penguins

Slumping Bryan Rust moves to Penguins top line with Dominik Simon out

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, 2:27 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bryan Rust, right, is stopped by Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bryan Rust, right, is stopped by Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

NHL players in a scoring slump will try anything to snap out of it. A new hairstyle. A new route to the rink. A new warmup routine before games.

Bryan Rust might be trying the most effective trick of them all.

It looks like he’s getting a new linemate. And it’s Sidney Crosby.

Dominik Simon, who had been playing on the top line with Crosby and Jake Guentzel, did not practice Wednesday because of a lower-body injury suffered in the first period of Tuesday night’s game with Colorado. Coach Mike Sullivan said Simon is day-to-day.

In his absence, Rust skated on the top line in practice at UPMC Sports Complex in Cranberry.

“Anytime a teammate is having a tough time, you want to pick them up,” Crosby said. “You can do that different ways. You can talk to him and try to inspire him in different ways. But I think when you’re playing together, that’s the best way. You try to play well beside him and hope that you see one go in for him.”

Rust is off to an abysmal offensive start to the season, recording one goal and five assists in 26 games.

He seemed all but assured of snapping a 17-game goal drought late in Tuesday night’s win over Colorado, but Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon got a stick into his skates just as he was attempting to shoot into an open net in the waning moments of the third period.

Given the depths of Rust’s slump, it was one of the crueler things someone could do to him.

“A little bit upsetting, but the score was 6-3. It didn’t matter too much,” Rust said.

Rust conceded he has been searching desperately for ways to break out of his slump.

“Looking for anything,” he said.

He also conceded being paired up with Crosby might be the easiest way to get going.

“Anytime you’re on the ice with him, things like that happen,” Rust said. “That might be good.”

Rust never has been one to put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but he’s been a player the Penguins could count on for a consistent dose of secondary scoring for the past three-plus seasons.

Two years ago, he turned in a career-high 15 goals. Last season, he upped his point total to 38. He also regularly has contributed big goals in the playoffs, scoring 16 in his career.

He’s never been accused of being a gifted finisher, but he reached those offensive heights by using his high-end speed to his advantage. Coach Mike Sullivan suggested more of the same is the key to getting Rust going.

“It’s not so much focusing on scoring goals. It’s focusing on the process,” Sullivan said. “We’ve talked to him about using his speed and being the first guy on the forecheck and forcing turnovers and taking defensemen wide and challenging people with his speed all over the rink. Nothing but good things happen when he’s utilizing his speed. That’s such a great asset that he had. Everything comes off of that.”

Rust’s most recent hint of offensive success came in a two-game stretch when he teamed with Riley Sheahan to create ample scoring chances and plenty of possession on the fourth line. He set Sheahan up for a goal last Saturday against Philadelphia.

Rust figures those games might have taught him a thing or two about how to get back on track.

“There were definitely some good chances there, just being able to work that grind game and play a little bit more simple,” Rust said. “Play north-south, play a little dirtier. I think that helped.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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