Penguins hope ‘Playoff Jake’ Guentzel can proceed to provide if Sidney Crosby misses time

The query appears truthful.

Can Jake Guentzel produce targets at his customary excessive stage if his high-profile, Corridor of Fame middle isn’t accessible to him?

On Wednesday night time, Guentzel didn’t wait lengthy to offer a solution.

Strive, two shifts.

Guentzel scored the second time he took the ice after Crosby’s retreat to the guests’ locker room at Madison Sq. Backyard due to a presumed head damage suffered throughout Sport 5 of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round playoff collection in opposition to the New York Rangers.

Can Guentzel rating if Crosby isn’t setting him up? For all of 66 seconds Wednesday, he couldn’t. However on the 67th second of his time with out Crosby, Guentzel took a feed from new/previous middle Evgeni Malkin and ripped a shot that beat Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin quick aspect.

In some methods, it was wholly unfair to ponder if Guentzel might rating with out Crosby. In spite of everything, accumulating 194 NHL targets (common season and playoffs) isn’t accidentally and may’t be utterly attributable to deft setups.

However on the identical time, every of Guentzel’s first 5 targets over the primary 4 video games of this collection had been assisted by Crosby. To so rapidly get one with out his help helps put some minds comfortable amongst the Penguins, who may need to play Sport 6 (and past) with out their captain and with Malkin because the No. 1 middle.

“(Malkin) is a celebrity participant. If you get an opportunity to play with these guys, it’s a novel alternative,” Guentzel mentioned. “We’ve performed collectively previously. He’s a man that likes the puck on his stick and is simply one other unreal passer. For me, it’s simply looking for open spots and get him the puck as a lot as doable.”

Whereas coach Mike Sullivan might elect for a distinct lineup configuration earlier than the 7 p.m. faceoff Friday at PPG Paints Area, for the ultimate period-plus of Sport 5 he merely bumped every of his facilities up a line. Malkin was between Guentzel and proper wing Bryan Rust.

One other shoo-in for future Corridor of Fame standing, Malkin is an affordable alternative middle for Guentzel, who headed into Thursday night time’s video games tied for the NHL lead in postseason targets with seven. All seven of Guentzel’s tallies are at even-strength; that’s two greater than every other participant.

“He’s a extremely good participant,” Sullivan mentioned, “however he’s additionally a man that takes loads of pleasure in his personal private sport, and he understands how essential he’s to this staff and his contributions and what the expectation is.”

That was the case 50 weeks in the past, when Guentzel publicly took the blame for a 3rd consecutive Penguins opening-round playoffs ouster.

“I let lots of people down,” Guentzel mentioned within the aftermath of a 3rd straight postseason during which he scored precisely one aim.

Guentzel vowed to spend the summer time getting stronger, rationalizing that he didn’t wish to be worn down come the playoffs once more.

No matter Guentzel did final summer time, it labored. He’s off to one of many biggest five-game offensive stretches to open a postseason in Penguins historical past. No participant had ever scored in even the Penguins’ first 4 video games of a playoff run earlier than. The one three streaks of video games with a aim longer throughout any level of a postseason for the Penguins all got here from Mario Lemieux: in 1991, ’96 and ’89, respectively, when he had aim streaks of seven, seven and 6 video games.

Jaromir Jagr (1996 and 2000) and Kevin Stevens (1991) are the one different Penguins gamers with five-game aim streaks within the playoffs.

“I do know what to anticipate slightly extra, and I’m slightly extra mature,” Guentzel mentioned of his sixth NHL postseason. “The final couple of years I used to be attempting to get in and do some various things that weren’t my sport, and I believe I’m simply attempting to get again to (my sport). Simply fear about hockey and never fear in regards to the different little issues.”

Even with the duds of the previous three postseasons, Guentzel’s 33 playoff targets since he entered the league are second-most within the NHL in that point. Guentzel’s playoff charge of 0.59 targets per sport equates to a 48-goal common season that’s even higher than his spectacular regular-season profession charge of 162 targets in 375 video games (0.43 per sport; a 35-goal tempo).

Guentzel scores at a charge that’s 37% larger within the postseason, when for most individuals, targets are tougher to come back by.

“‘Common-season Jake is terrific,” Sullivan mentioned. “I believe ‘Playoff Jake’ is a complete different stage.

“That’s what makes him a particular participant that he’s. He’s a extremely aggressive child. And he’s proven a capability to play his greatest in a high-stakes surroundings. He’s a Stanley Cup champion and he was an enormous a part of it.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Evaluate workers author. You’ll be able to contact Chris by e-mail at cadamski@triblive.com or by way of Twitter .

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