There are a lot of adjectives that can be attached to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Teddy Plogger and how he approaches his career.
Blueger offered a completely different term on Tuesday.
“Not well, probably,” the 28-year-old said when asked to describe the 2022-23 season after training on Tuesday at Cranberry. “I have to try and figure it out. Take it back to basics and do all the details right.”
The brave defensive center has endured a less-than-ideal campaign since his training camp when an undisclosed injury he sustained in late September kept him out of the lineup until November 15.
In 28 games, Blueger, never an overproductive scorer at the NHL level, was tied for seven points (one goal, six assists) while averaging 12 minutes and 23 seconds of ice time per contest.
Digging deeper, Blueger’s possession numbers are the lowest in his five-year career. He is usually deployed in defensive scenarios—such as defensive zone ties—and has been on the ice for 199 shot attempts and 267 shot attempts against it during a five-on-five play, which equates to a 42.7% possession rate according to Natural Stat Trick.
(By comparison, last season the Blueger’s average possession average was 48.38%).
Another way to describe Blueger is honest. He was very critical when he was asked to do a self-check on Tuesday.
“I feel like I kind of analyzed it to death,” Blogger said. “Maybe I could have had more poise with the puck. Make more plays. I just have to focus. Do all the details and win the battles. Hopefully it will come sooner rather than later. I just have to try and do everything I can and see where the chips fall.”
The Blueger coach wasn’t harsh in his assessment.
“Teddy is hard on himself,” said Mike Sullivan. “I think he’s his biggest critic. The one area I think he can do more in is on the offensive side. He thinks the game is good. He has the ability to create and create for his line offensively. That’s an area that I think he’s not just on as an individual. But as a line, I think they’re capable of Generating more offensively, that’s where I think we’re looking to see some improvement there.
“But we depend on him a lot in defensive situations. He’s a real conscientious player. And I think his penalty kill speaks for itself.”
Blueger is usually still the first to cross the boards for penalty kills. And despite missing the first 15 games of the season, he’s third among the team’s forwards with 82 defensive starts in five-on-five scenarios.
In years past, the Blueger had the advantage of playing with two stable linemates. During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, his teammates were, almost exclusively, Zach Aston Reese and Brandon Tanev. And during the 2021-22 campaign he mainly skated with Aston Race and Brooke McGinn.
This season, he’s had a zoo of the likes of McGinn, Josh Archibald, Ryan Poehling, and Danton Heinen. On Monday, the third line focused with Jeff Carter on the right wing and Drew O’Connor on the left wing.
Plougher, who said he was not dealing with any long-term effects from his injury in training camp, declined to cite his teammates as the root cause of an unsatisfactory season.
“No matter who I play with, we have a lot of good players,” Blogger said. “I don’t think that’s (a factor).”
One thing Blueger was consistent with was his careful approach to improving his game. His obsession with freshening up the rough edges of his game usually makes him the last member of the team to leave the ice after practices.
This was the case on Tuesday.
Whether things are going well or – as he puts it – bad, he doesn’t know of any other way to raise his level of performance.
“What else am I going to do? Leave? Stop trying?” Blueger asked rhetorically. “I have faith it will come eventually. You just have to put in the work. I’ve had long periods without points or anything before in my career. No goals, all of that. I’ve had it before. It’s not the first time. You just have to To come back and go again and trust that she will eventually get in.”