Mark Stone #61 of the Ottawa Senators controls the puck against Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on May 19, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jake Guentzel has the unusual distinction of being the leading goal-scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs and one in the midst of a goal-scoring drought.
Guentzel has gone five games without a goal. It's the longest stretch without scoring since February for the rookie right winger, who had 16 goals in 40 regular-season games and was tied Saturday with Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg for the NHL lead with nine postseason goals.
“Sometimes you go through instances like this,” Guentzel said. “Just got to stick with it.”
It helps to stick with Sidney Crosby.
Despite the drought, Guentzel has remained a constant on Crosby's line, even with a revolving door on the opposite wing. Conor Sheary was replaced by Patric Hornqvist, then Bryan Rust and, now, Chris Kunitz.
It's evidence Penguins coach Mike Sullivan believes in Guentzel, who scored seven goals in his first seven playoff games, including a hat trick and the overtime winner in Game 3 at Columbus in the first round.
“I think anybody that plays with Sid has opportunities because of the way he commands the puck,” Sullivan said. “We try to put guys with Sid we think are complementary. He likes to play down low. For an elite player, he has a blue-collar aspect to his game. He might be the best in the league at it.
“When you look at Jake or Kuni or some of the guys we've put with Sid, that's one of the reasons we do it, because we think they can help one another in that aspect of the game. I think Sid helps those guys maybe more so because of his skill level and his compete, how hard he is on pucks. So I do think it helps both sides.”
A closer look at Crosby's game could give Guentzel confidence. Crosby went seven games without a goal, including the one he left with a concussion, in these playoffs before scoring on the power play each of the past two games. Sullivan said Crosby played as inspired a game as he's seen in Game 4, one game after the top line took a minus-3 in the 5-2 loss to the Senators.
“When he plays that way, he's tough to handle,” Sullivan said of Crosby. “I think it's indicative of how badly he wants to win. He's probably the fiercest competitor that I've been associated with in the game. … He's got an insatiable appetite to be the best. He has a drive and a will to win that, in my estimation of being around the game, not too many people have. I think because of that, that's what separates him from others.”
Guentzel had two assists in the 3-2 victory over the Senators in Game 4, a secondary assist on Olli Maatta's opening goal and the primary assist on Crosby's power-play goal. The Penguins are hoping that playing on the man-advantage could get Guentzel going the same way it did Crosby this series.
“It's not easy to score goals this time of year for anybody,” Crosby said. “I think just stay with it is the biggest thing. You don't know when you're going to get that chance. When you do, you have to make sure you do the same things you typically would, keep competing to get to those tough areas.”
Guentzel also could use some puck luck. He has had 10 shots on goal in the past five games and has come oh-so-close to scoring in this series. The Penguins believe it's only a matter of time.
“The most important thing is that he's getting the chances,” Sullivan said. “You really can't control whether it goes in or it doesn't go in. What you can do is control the process. He's doing that extremely well. He's getting a lot of chances. He's hit a number of posts here in this series. At some point they're going to start going in for him.”
Guentzel knows skating with Crosby increases his chances of getting a goal, so he is taking the captain's advice to heart.
“You've just go to stay with it,” Guentzel said. “I mean, it's hard to score now. You have to realize that. You just got to stick with it.