After having an outstanding playoffs last season for the Penguins, it was expected that Nick Bonino could follow that up. He is playing for a new contract, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Some analysts stated that they expected him to have a strong season, earning himself a new contract worth around $4 million per season.
Before he had his hat trick last night in Winnipeg, Bonino had just nine goals this season and had less even strength goals than Patric Hornqvist. He just was not playing well at all, except on the penalty kill. Bonino is one of the Penguins best penalty killers and a big reason as to why the kill was so good in last years playoffs. His five-on-five play has not been good, and his line has not been creating enough scoring opportunities in the offensive zone. He was even demoted to the fourth line during the previous game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Nick Bonino Breaks Long Scoring Slump but Can it Continue?
Last night though, could be a turning point in Bonino’s season. If he gets hot, it would make the Penguins a lot more difficult to play against. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year not only because they had four lines that can score, but because they had a third line that was a difficult match-up for any opponent. The play of Bonino, Carl Hagelin, and Phil Kessel in last year’s playoffs was a major reason for the Penguins success. Last night was the first time all season where Bonino looked even remotely close to the level of play he brought last spring. Bonino had his first hat trick since February 2nd, 2013 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks. Incidentally, the Canucks will face the Penguins this Saturday night. It was also the first time Bonino had scored twice in a game since being traded to Pittsburgh.
Changing the Combination
Bonino has been used on a plethora of line combinations this season and that could be one of the biggest reasons as to why is production is down this year. At the start of the season, Mike Sullivan used the “HBK” line that worked so well during the playoffs. However, it just didn’t amount to anything during regular season games.
Last night, Bonino played with Scott Wilson and Jake Guentzel on the third line. That combination will likely stay around at least for a few more games as they seemed to have some chemistry. Sullivan has used Guentzel with Sidney Crosby at times, but for a young player in Guentzel, there will be much to learn in playing a different role with Bonino.
Having Bonino return to form would be massive for Pittsburgh, as the team heads down into their final 17 games of the regular season and the playoffs. It would create a match-up nightmare for other coaches in a best-of-seven series. Bonino showed why the Penguins traded for him last night and it’ll be interesting to see if a big scoring tear is coming for him.