Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz put up points at a prolific pace in December.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — Justin Schultz’s December to remember did not net him an invitation to the NHL All-Star Game.
Good luck finding anyone associated with the Penguins who cares, and the reason is because they believe it was hardly a blip on the radar.
This version of Schultz, Penguins coaches and management figure, is here to stay.
“I know it’s not just the month of December,” defense development coach Sergei Gonchar said. “It’s hard work and dedication since training camp.”
Try to make sense of the snub, and it’s next to impossible.
Schultz leads Carolina’s Justin Faulk, Seth Jones of Columbus and the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh by nearly every quantifiable measure.
Scoring chances tilted in the Penguins’ favor by 57.79 percent when Schultz was on the ice. His plus-24 rating was tied for the best in the league. His Goals Against Per 60 (GA60) of 2.03 is beyond solid.
Consider, too, that only three defenseman have produced 18 or more points in a month the past five years. Or that Schultz is tied with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (20 points) for the scoring lead among defensemen since Nov. 30.
It doesn’t make sense, but the Penguins would rather have what has happened for Schultz’s than to book a trip for him to Los Angeles.
And few people know what that sort of transformation looks like better than Gonchar, an all-time NHL great at the position.
“We all knew he had great offensive instincts,” Gonchar said. “What I have to give him a lot of credit for is he was working on his defensive game, paying attention to details.
“In the beginning maybe he was not scoring as many points offensively, but he was improving himself on the defensive side. When he improved his defensive game, his confidence level went up. Then, he was able to use his skills a little bit more. His timing started getting better because instead of defending all the time he was breaking the plays. He was not chasing people and allowing them to do things. He was spending his energy joining the rush and creating offense.
“His biggest improvement is the defensive side of the game. I think that part helped him to be better offensively.”
Finally, a game
Four practices in five days are rare in normal seasons, let alone condensed ones.
But that’s what the Penguins got, and they felt entering Wednesday night that it had their game in an even better spot since Friday, when they came back from the bye week.
“To be able to have those practices definitely helps to work on some things that maybe you aren’t as strong at, things we need to build on,” Bryan Rust said.
Line it up
Wednesday morning the Penguins reassigned goaltender Tristan Jarry to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and promoted defenseman David Warsofsky as insurance.
Jarry went down because Matt Murray is recovered from the lower-body injury he suffered Dec. 28; he is expected to start tonight in Ottawa.
Warsofsky gives the Penguins seven healthy defenseman since Chad Ruhwedel remains sick. It also was a promotion after Warsofsky produced two goals, five assists and was a plus-6 in four games to earn AHL player of the week honors.
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