The Pittsburgh Penguins may have the best line in hockey. Arguably the worlds best player Sidney Crosby will be flanked by a pair of undersized, speedy, intelligent wingers who can both create and finish chances. With Jake Guentzel’s and Conor Sheary’s progression adding even more life to Crosby’s game, 100 goals, combined, is only a starting point. (Note: 100 goals combined in all situations, not exclusively scored as a line).
Crosby scored 44 goals last season and is the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner. The magic milestone, 50 goals this season is entirely possible.
Over the past two seasons, gone are traditional Crosby linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Replaced by players not old enough to rent a car (In fairness, Sheary turned 25 this summer).
Armed with experience and confidence, Guentzel and Sheary are poised for another step forward. They could create the most statistically prolific Penguins line since Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Steven saddled a fellow named Mario Lemieux, in 1993. The “Sky Line” totaled a ridiculous 365 points, 158 goals.
Sheary, especially, is intent on proving he is able to become a consistent contributor who isn’t worn down by the season grind and not overpowered by opponents. Preseason isn’t the best test, but early indications are positive. Sheary has displayed greater puck retrieval and corner work. His puck pressure against Buffalo created a pair of turnovers which directly led to a pair of Penguins goals.
Sheary has personal goals to achieve. Beside Crosby and on the second power-play unit, Sheary could score 30 goals.
Guentzel: Jake the Snake
Guentzel is elusive. He doesn’t disappear in a crowd, Guentzel uses it for cover until he slips away to open ice. Guentzel isn’t lucky to be in the right place at the right time; he knows where the right place is and will be.
Guentzel, the Penguins 2013 third-round choice, is the first player in years to play with Crosby who not only reacts well to Crosby but anticipates the play, also.
Guentzel and Sheary’s speed and youth not only compliment Crosby but invigorate him. Crosby befuddled the Sabres defense, Wednesday night–as he cut to the slot, he slipped a no-look backhand pass to Guentzel. Then Crosby hustled to the corner to beat two Sabres before setting up Guentzel for another scoring chance.
Last season, Guentzel and Sheary were at times sparkling and at times, they wore down. Second-year pro Guentzel led the 2017 NHL playoffs with 13 goals, but his play noticeably slipped as the playoffs progressed.
For the second consecutive year, Sheary became a healthy scratch in the playoffs. He was scratched for a pair of games in the Eastern Conference Final. However, the time off on each Cup run proved beneficial. In 2017, Sheary added four assists in the Penguins final seven games.
Lots of Goals
The 2016-17 Penguins scored more goals than any Stanley Cup champion since the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes. Last season, the Penguins scored 282 goals (Carolina netted 294 goals). Despite an offseason of turnover, the Penguins offense could be even more prolific. Young players with Stanley Cup confidence and something to prove is a powerful cocktail.
Simple math: If Crosby is able to increase his High-Danger scoring chances by 10%, he’ll score 48 goals–assuming he converts at the same rate. Sheary would net 37. If Sheary can play 10 more games this season, (from 61 to 71), and the same proficiency, he’ll clear 40 goals.
The national hockey media is in the process of passing the “greatest player” baton from Crosby to Connor McDavid. The bet here is Crosby has a couple more great runs. An explosive offensive season with players who aren’t fully known to the hockey world could re-assert Crosby in the hockey hierarchy.
All great players have great egos, too. It’s just another little piece of motivation.
Guentzel will continue to grow and polish his game. The soon-to-be 23 year old from Woodbury, MN, tied the NHL record with 21 points in the 2017 playoffs. This season, 30 goals are easily within reach.
Sheary has more to prove. There are knocks on his game. He “settled” for a three-year, $9 million contract.
It’s only fitting, on “Kids Day”, a pair of kids are set to claim prominent roles beside a player once nicknamed “The Kid”. And here’s betting the three players will combine for enough goals to require extra red light bulbs. 100 goals and more. Write it down.
Check out this weekend’s Podcast! CLICK HERE
I dished some dirt on the Danis Zaripov situation and how the Penguins-Red Wings trade is holding up everyone. We also discuss the Penguins top line, if Hagelin is the right choice for the second line, and we do a Fantasy Hockey sleeper segment. Kailer Yamamoto!