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Who Will Step Up? Penguins Lack Playoff Wingers



Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel

Reputations precede the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team which won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 has a reputation for big games and big goals. The highlight reels and Game 7 wins don’t lie. The Penguins were a big game team until tired legs, and internal issues sidetracked their dynastic quest.

In the past two seasons, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has undertaken a roster overhaul. The Penguins are no longer an aging team with more experience than youth. Instead, Rutherford rebuilt around the Penguins core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang.

In the process, the Penguins are younger, again fast, but the players who shined brightest under the playoff lights are elsewhere. The Penguins new wingers have decidedly unimpressive playoff numbers.

Gone are Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, who excelled in the postseason.

Jake Guentzel. The Pittsburgh Penguins list of remaining wingers who have posted adequate totals in the playoffs begins with Guentzel. It ends with newly acquired Patrick Marleau. Otherwise, the Penguins wingers have been dry in the postseason.

Before Guentzel was a consistent NHL performer, he set fire to NHL playoff scoresheets. In 41 playoff games, Guentzel has a whopping 43 points, including 24 goals. He wasn’t around for the 2016 Stanley Cup, but Guentzel was red-hot in the 2017 Cup run, and he scored 21 points in the Penguins 12-game playoff season of 2017-18, which ended in six games in Round Two against the Washington Capitals.

Marleau has also been a playoff performer after earning a bad wrap in the first part of his career with the San Jose Sharks. In 191 career spring games, Marleau has 127 points including 72 goals. In his last 14 games, he has seven points with four goals but earned criticism last season with only two assists in Toronto’s seven-game loss to the Boston Bruins in Round One.

Somewhere in the middle is winger Patric Hornqvist, whose playoff performances mirrors his regular-season performances. Hornqvist plays every game with intensity and energy, so that’s not surprising. Hornqvist has 44 points (24g, 20a) in 86 postseason games

Even though the Penguins lack wingers who have lit up the playoffs, remember, great moments are born of great opportunity. The Penguins will have a great opportunity, but it may be a concern that only Guentzel and Hornqvist have recently posted big playoff numbers.

Lacking Numbers

Conor Sheary: 56 games. 19 points (6g, 13a).

Sheary was along for the pair of Stanley Cup rides, and it is particularly striking that he produced very little in the postseason despite playing with Sidney Crosby for most of 2016 and some of 2017.

Sheary had just two points(0g, 2a) in 12 games of the 2017-18 playoff flameout. Sheary had only 10 points in the 2016 Cup run, and just seven in the 2017 victory.

Jason Zucker: 31 games. 8 points (4g, 4a).

The Penguins targeted former Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker for nearly 12 months. He was almost a Penguin as part of a Phil Kessel trade. Eventually, He landed in Pittsburgh for the Penguins top defenseman prospect Calen Addison, Alex Galchenyuk, and a first-round pick.

However, Zucker has just one goal and two assists in his last 16 playoff games, which were a trio of Round One losses. Overall, Zucker has never advanced beyond Round Two.

Bryan Rust: 62 games. 21 points (16g, 5a). 

Rust had a knack for series ending goals, but he hasn’t put up many points in the playoffs. In his last 16 playoff games over the past two seasons, Rust has only three goals and no assists.

Rust had a respectable nine points in each of the Penguins Stanley Cup runs. For a third or fourth liner, those were substantial numbers, but as a top-six or top-nine winger in the past two seasons, more is needed. He has only three goals and no assists in his last 16 playoff games.

Brandon Tanev: 22 games. 8 points (5g, 3a).

Tanev’s .36 points per game in the playoffs outpaces his .28 points per game in the regular season.

Tanev’s contributions in Winnipeg, where he was a fourth liner, and in Pittsburgh where his line with Teddy Blueger has transcended labels, will not be on the scoresheet.

But, his lack of offense in the playoffs piles on the other Penguins wingers who haven’t scored enough in the postseason.

Zach Aston-Reese: 13 Games. 1 point (0g, 1a).

Aston-Reese’s first playoff go was cut short by a vicious head-shot from Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson after just nine games. He was scoreless during the New York Islanders sweep last season.