Sidney Crosby has done some amazing things during his 17 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But he’s never done this.
Evgeni Malkin has been on the payroll since 2006. He hasn’t done it, either.
Mario Lemieux played parts of 17 seasons, and is universally recognized as one of the finest talents in NHL history. He managed to do it twice.
Jake Guentzel did it this spring, even though almost no one seemed to notice.
Not nearly as much as they should have, anyway.
Guentzel scored eight goals during the Penguins’ seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, earning membership in the informal, but no less elite, club of players who have averaged better than a goal-per-game during a postseason run.
But while his feat was overshadowed by the cruel realities of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fifth consecutive loss in a playoff series, that didn’t detract from the magnitude of what Guentzel accomplished.
“He was on fire,” Crosby said. “It’s too bad we didn’t close out that series, because he did everything he could. He was good in every area, and obviously putting the puck in the net. Eight goals speaks for itself.”
So did the 40 that Guentzel scored during the regular season, the second time he has reached that milestone.
What Guentzel has achieved in the past is clear; what he’s capable of in the future — including the 2022-23 season — has yet to be determined.
Is 40 his ceiling? Maybe, and there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. After all, only 17 players in the league put up 40 or more last season.
But Guentzel’s teammates believe he is capable of being even more prolific.
“He’s got the potential to do more,” Bryan Rust said. “Like all of us, he’s always striving to do more. I’m sure he’s definitely got more in him.”
If Guentzel agrees — and there’s not much reason that he shouldn’t — he isn’t letting on, because setting statistical objectives for the season ahead apparently is not part of his training-camp routine.
“I’m just trying to get better each year,” he said. “The numbers come as they come. I’m not really trying to focus on numbers, or anything like that. I’m just trying to play my best, and help the team win.”
Guentzel’s penchant for scoring goals has helped to extend the Pittsburgh Penguins’ league-best streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 16.
And it turns out that one of the few things tougher than preventing him from scoring is Isolating a single trait or talent that makes it possible for him to do so.
Crosby cited his hockey sense. And his ability to deflect pucks. And his fearlessness.
“He’s willing to do whatever it takes to score goals,” Crosby said. “You have to be able to adjust and adapt to do that consistently, and that’s what he does a really good job of.”
Guentzel’s instincts and high hockey IQ were a recurring theme, but teammates mentioned a few other attributes.
Jeff Petry, who had to contend with Guentzel as a defenseman with Edmonton and Montreal, pointed to his skating, hands and the synergy he developed with his longtime linemates, Crosby and Rust.
Tristan Jarry noted Guentzel’s ability to read plays and how he regularly launches pucks at areas that cause problems for goaltenders. “He’s not going to beat you with a blistering shot,” Jarry said. “It’s always well-placed.”
Rust noted Guentzel’s quick release and the way “he just knows where to go, with and without the puck.”
That’s a pretty formidable and diverse set of assets, illustrating why opponents find it so challenging to neutralize Guentzel. And why his coworkers figure he won’t stop at 40 goals one of these seasons.
Perhaps the one that will begin with a home game against Arizona Oct. 13.
“I don’t want to put expectations (on him),” Crosby said. “He’s the one who’s playing and has his own expectations. But I think that you want to continue to get better and better.
“I know he’s motivated to get better. If that translates into more goals, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I’m sure he’s going to push to get more than 40.”