Penguins notebook: Crosby linemates try to adopt same approach
WASHINGTON — The Penguins have been going through lineup uncertainty the past couple of days, wondering if captain Sidney Crosby would play in Game 5 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
The question marks weren't erased officially until the team announced a few minutes before faceoff that Crosby would make his return to the ice five days after suffering a concussion in Game 3.
Crosby centered his normal linemates, Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist.
There was probably no player on the roster better equipped to handle uncertainty about who his center would be than Hornqvist.
To him, it couldn't have mattered less. He plays the same straight-ahead style no matter who he's on the ice with.
“I can only play one way,” he said. “It doesn't matter who my centerman is. I try to get energy to the team and finish some checks and be hard to play against in front of the net. That's my style.”
The uncertainty had to be a little trickier for Guentzel.
The 22-year-old rookie doesn't have as much experience as Hornqvist, and much of his offense in the postseason has come as a result of the chemistry he's shown with Crosby.
He tends to take on the personality of his linemates more than Hornqvist does, which means a switch from Crosby to Nick Bonino and back could have been a more difficult transition for him.
Regardless, Guentzel said his approach to the quandary is the same as Hornqvist's.
“You've just got to play your game and do your thing out there,” Guentzel said. “You're playing with a good player no matter what. You've just got to play your game.”
Crosby did not participate in morning skate Saturday before making his return in Game 5 about eight hours later.
That wasn't an unusual development. Crosby often skips skates on game days, especially when the team had a full practice the day before.
“He's just going through his normal game-day routine like he always does,” coach Mike Sullivan said at the time, while classifying Crosby as a game-time decision.
Sullivan said the decision to play Crosby and Conor Sheary, who also suffered a concussion in Game 3 on Monday night, was not influenced by the status of the series.
“I think that we trust our doctors and the process that they go through, and when they tell us that these guys are healthy and cleared to play, that's all we need to know,” Sullivan said. “As I said from the start, the health and safety of our players is always the priority.”
Sullivan also said he wasn't surprised at how quickly Crosby and Sheary made recoveries.
“I don't think so just because I was around them after the fact and my experience of watching players go through it over the years, they're all unique in their own way,” Sullivan said. “Some recover quicker than others.”
Sullivan said he suffered a concussion during his playing days — he retired in 2002 after a 709-game NHL career — but that experience didn't inform the way he deals with the injury as a coach today.
“I think back then, they really weren't monitored like they are today. Not even close,” Sullivan said. “That was so long ago, I can't remember.”
Winger Tom Kuhnhackl, a native of Landshut, Germany, was accepting congratulations in the locker room Saturday after his home country defeated the United States, 2-1, in an opening-round game at the World Championships on Friday.
“I think that caught everybody by surprise,” Kuhnhackl said. “It's just awesome. Obviously, that's a great start for us and our whole country.”
Kuhnhackl said he didn't make any wagers with his American teammates on the outcome.
“No, no, no,” he said. “I mean, not officially.”