'Sid and The Kids' line struggling to finish scoring chances
Jake Guentzel took a few of his cues on how to carry himself as a hockey player from Phil Kessel. They crossed paths in 2005-06, when Kessel skated for one season with the University of Minnesota and Guentzel roamed the Golden Gophers' facilities as a fascinated adolescent with the blessing of his father, Mike, then the team's assistant coach.
Kessel's swagger and shooting talent stuck with Guentzel, whose quiet demeanor around the media, Midwest roots and talent for scoring gave him some common ground to share with Kessel.
The way Kessel publicly vented on the Penguins' bench during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals at PPG Paints Arena is not something Guentzel anticipates he will ever consider trying, though.
There's certainly a chance Guentzel and linemates Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary wish to stomp and scream about the state of their play in the series against Ottawa, which holds a 2-1 lead entering Friday's Game 4 at Canadian Tire Centre. The trio, dynamic during the regular season and reunited after Bryan Rust suffered an upper-body injury early in Game 2, has the worst five-on-five goal differential (minus-6, three goals for, nine against) of any Penguins forward combination in the postseason. Shots refuse to find the back of the net, and synergy remains absent against the particularly stingy Senators.
“You don't want to get too frustrated against them,” Guentzel said, “and you don't want to show them that we're frustrated.”
Crosby capitalized on a power play in Wednesday's 5-1 loss in Game 3 to get his first goal since Game 1 of the second-round series against Washington. Sheary continues to wait for his first postseason tally. And Guentzel, tied for the league lead with nine playoff goals, has gone four games without burying a shot, his longest drought since going five games without a goal in February.
Ask any of the three about their offensive play in the series, though, and they will emphasize their creation of scoring chances. How they or the Penguins define chances is unknown. But those chances keep Crosby and his linemates' spirits up.
“It's good when you're getting those looks,” Crosby said. “That's a good thing. Eventually, it will go in.
“I think (we) just make sure we're hungry. I think when it's not going in for you, you've just got to keep it simple and make sure you keep getting pucks to the net, keep getting guys there, and make sure we're competing in and around the net.”
During the regular season, arguably no Penguins line caused more havoc near the net simply by buzzing around in search of loose pucks. In almost 170 five-on-five minutes together, the trio outscored opponents, 12-7. The Penguins generated 56.8 percent of the shots on goal when they had Crosby, Guentzel and Sheary out together during five-on-five play. Each of the three ranked among the team leaders in even-strength points, shots, shot attempts and scoring chances.
With that same trio, the Penguins trailed, 56-41, in shots on goal during five-on-five action in the playoffs. Sheary and Crosby both experienced dips in how many shots they attempted and in how many they got on net.
“You're going to have an off night here and there,” said Sheary, who has struggled more than any of the three this postseason. “It's just important that you have a short memory and you come back the next night ready to go.”
That's exactly what coach Mike Sullivan wants to hear from his top forward line, which drew even more matchup minutes with star Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson in Game 3 than it did in Game 1 and 2 as a result of the Senators receiving last-change rights.
“Listen, I know we haven't scored a lot of goals here in this particular series to this point, but I believe that we'll score goals,” Sullivan said. “I think we have to stay the course here and stay with it. As I said, it's not that we haven't generated scoring chances, because we have. We've controlled a lot of the play in the first three games — zone time, territory, chances, a lot of the statistics are suggestive that we're going to score goals.”