Penguins' Jake Guentzel lighting up Nashville; team could use scoring from others
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A few hours after the Penguins wrapped up practice Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena, a young man with curly blond hair wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and a gray hat with “PGH” printed on it in black block letters walked down Fifth Avenue in downtown Nashville.
He went completely unnoticed as a crowd of tourists went about its business in the busiest part of town.
If he keeps playing like he has in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, Jake Guentzel won't be able to travel incognito much longer.
He's becoming a scoring star for the Penguins, so much so that the team might actually be relying on him too much to do all the heavy lifting around the net.
The Penguins have scored 10 goals in the series against Nashville. Guentzel has four of them.
“Maybe he should spread it out to all of us,” joked winger Conor Sheary. “No, he's doing a great job. He's been a boost for us in a lot of these games, and he's helped us win a lot of these games.
“He's getting to those dirty areas, and he's been performing great. We've relied on him quite a bit. So yeah, I think we do need a little more offense from a lot of guys.”
Guentzel's exploits have been well chronicled in the last few days. He scored the winning goal for the Penguins in the first two games of the final series, then scored the team's only goal in a 5-1 loss Saturday night.
He is the first player to score in the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final since Detroit's Steve Yzerman in 1987.
“You just try to take it all in and realize what a year it's been,” Guentzel said. “Obviously two more victories to cap it off.”
While Guentzel's goals might have been a bonus at the start of the playoffs, they're now an integral part of the team's offensive attack.
“We rely on him to produce offensively for us. We need him to produce offensively for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He has done that consistently through the course of this playoffs.”
At this point, it wouldn't make sense to use the term “secondary scoring” to refer to Guentzel's contributions. He leads the entire league with 13 postseason goals. He's a primary point producer.
And that leaves a vacancy underneath him in the team's offensive hierarchy.
For the Penguins to secure two more victories over the Predators and claim the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup, they're probably going to need some production from some less-heralded players.
A small group of forwards who could be candidates to fill the role looked like they might be on the verge of something in Game 3. The right-wing trio of Sheary, Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel combined for 13 of the team's 28 shots.
“I feel like one of these games maybe it will just break open for us,” Sheary said. “For me personally, I've been trying to shoot a little more. Maybe get a good bounce or something like that to get me going. I think that has to be a mindset throughout our lineup.”
Another group of forwards had quiet nights in Game 3. Bryan Rust, Chris Kunitz, Scott Wilson, Carl Hagelin, Matt Cullen and Carter Rowney combined for five shots between them.
If one could pop up with a big goal in a big spot — like Sheary did in Game 1 and Wilson did in Game 2 — it would help the Penguins' cause in a significant way.
“We need contributions from everyone,” Rust said. “(Guentzel has) obviously been scoring a lot here. But as you see with anyone who scores goals, when he went through a little bit of a lull, there were other guys who stepped up. This is another one of those times where we need a few more guys step up, too.”