Penguins notebook: Jake Guentzel snaps power-play slump
The Ottawa Senators arrived at PPG Paints Arena to play the Penguins on Tuesday with some extra baggage on the team bus: trade rumors.
With his team in 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has more or less announced that he's open for business. Until the Feb. 26 trade deadline, rumors undoubtedly will swirl around plenty of players, from Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Derick Brassard at the top of the roster to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith and Johnny Oduya a little further down the depth chart.
For players who haven't been through the NHL trade meat grinder before, Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak has some advice.
Try to relax. The grass sometimes really is greener on the other side.
Oleksiak has thrived since joining the Penguins in a December trade from Dallas.
“There's always little whispers here and there,” Oleksiak said. “You can drive yourself crazy looking at trade rumors. For me, I just wanted a chance to play. Luckily, I went into a good situation with Pittsburgh.
“It was like, ‘How much longer are they going to keep eight D? Am I going to sit?' You can kind of go crazy thinking about all that stuff. It's definitely a good feeling when you land in a good situation.”
While trade rumors involving Oleksiak existed before he was moved, they were never front-page news. The 6-foot-7 defenseman said he has sympathy for players who find themselves in the intense glare of the deadline spotlight.
“For a guy like me, I'm not a Matt Duchene or one of those high-end guys,” Oleksiak said. “I'm sure they get it all the time, especially in the bigger markets like Toronto. Every day they get questions about it, especially those high-end guys. I can't even imagine what it's like for them.”
Oleksiak said he thinks trade rumors don't usually affect the performance of an NHL player, but there are some exceptions.
“Subconsciously, it probably creeps in there,” he said. “You want to do a little more, play a little harder. Fortunately, I'm kind of a steady Eddie. It was easier for me to just go my own way and let the chips fall where they may.”
When Jake Guentzel tipped in a Justin Schultz shot in the first period Tuesday night, it broke a streak of 10 unsuccessful power plays spread over four games for the Penguins.
The reason for the downturn seems obvious. Patric Hornqvist, the team's net-front specialist, has been out for the last five games.
“Horny's obviously an important guy for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He brings an important dimension to our power play that helps us have success.”
Captain Sidney Crosby pointed out two other reasons for the slump, however.
One was a decline in opportunities. The Penguins averaged 2.5 power plays during the skid. They were averaging 3.5 before that.
“It's a little tougher when you only get one or two a game,” Crosby said. “Your margin for error is a little smaller.”
The other was an inability to set up in the offensive zone quickly and cleanly.
The Penguins came into Tuesday's game on an eight-game home winning streak, the longest such streak since a franchise-record 13-gamer in 2013-14.
“It's the confidence we're playing with right now,” Oleksiak said. “When you're on the wave, you're just kind of riding it.”
Sullivan said Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl are making progress as they recuperate from lower-body injuries.
There were no changes to the Penguins lineup. Teddy Blueger, Matt Hunwick and Chad Ruhwedel were scratched.