Confidence is a fickle partner for any hockey player. With confidence, the puck dangles on the end of his stick as if it were super glued, and every hole in the goaltender has a neon glow. Without confidence, the puck feels like a brick and the net looks like a thimble.
This season, Jake Guentzel has struggled offensively. He has only 38 points (20g, 18a) in 64 games. The sky-high hopes earned from last year’s remarkable late-season and postseason offensive outburst were tempered with the need to grind, this season.
“It’s confidence. When you get the confidence you have the puck a little bit more on your stick, and you can start to make a few more plays,” Guentzel said.
Guentzel has eight points in his last four games, including a pair of three-point evenings. It also doesn’t hurt that Guentzel has seen more time on the left side of some schlub named Sidney Crosby.
This season, the Crosby-Guentzel duo has a Corsi rating near 57 percent, has earned 54 percent of scoring chances. However, earlier this season, Guentzel struggled to finish those chances and struggled to play a two-way game. In fact, with Guentzel on Crosby’s left flank, the line earned only 36 percent of the goals scored while they were on the ice. They scored 11 goals but gave up 21.
Which Jake Guentzel Numbers Matter?
In a touch of irony, after Guentzel was shuffled to Riley Sheahan’s wing, his chances and puck possession dropped markedly, but his production was positive.
Guentzel and Sheahan combined for a mediocre 47 percent Corsi and only earned 47 percent of the scoring chances. Yet, they scored more goals (12) than they yielded (9).
Now, Guentzel has confidence. After a little “chat” with coaches and third period pine-time against St. Louis on Feb. 11, Guentzel has surged.
And now, he’ll ride shotgun with the greatest athlete of the 21st Century, according to the Canada 150 poll.
“It feels good. Whenever you get the chance to play with him, it’s exciting. You know what kind of player he is,” said Guentzel.
You don’t have to tell Jake Guentzel what confidence means to offensive production. This season, he’s suffered goalless droughts of eight and 10 games. He’s struggled with finishing beside Crosby and wasn’t able to fill in as third line center until the Penguins found manna from heaven with Derick Brassard. The L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks specifically pounded Guentzel on the west coast trip.
Yet, as the calendar turned to March, Guentzel is still standing and a top-line part of one of the most dynamic attacks in the NHL.
“I think Jake has been a lot stiffer on the puck and in puck battles down low underneath the hash marks. He’s doing a better job of hanging onto pucks,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
Tonight, the Boston Bruins physical play and stiff defensemen will provide the perfect litmus test to Guentzel’s newfound confidence.
His play has dramatically improved. It isn’t hard to imagine he and Crosby taking advantage of their scoring chance advantage. If they do that, the worries heard around the league when GM Jim Rutherford plucked Derick Brassard from Ottawa could transition to outright fear of the Penguins lineup.