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Wednesday Night Hockey

Guentzel stepping up, out of Crosby's shadow to ignite Penguins

Forward has seven goals in past eight entering 'Wednesday Night Hockey' game against Blues

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Jake Guentzel has started to step out of Sidney Crosby's shadow.

The 25-year-old forward leads the Pittsburgh Penguins with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in his fourth NHL season. He has five goals in his past five games and seven in his past eight, and has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in the past 10 games with Crosby out while recovering from core muscle surgery.

Guentzel could continue to make a name for himself against the St. Louis Blues at PPG Paints Arena on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). But if he were never seen as more than Crosby's running mate, Guentzel wouldn't care.

"There are people that are going to talk," Guentzel said. "I've been fortunate to play alongside really good players. Can't say much about that. [Playing with Crosby] was just kind of the opportunity presented."

Mostly at left wing on the Penguins' first line, Guentzel scored an NHL career-high 40 goals last season. Crosby received a good amount of credit after having an assist on 26 of those 40 goals.

Video: VAN@PIT: Guentzel buries one-timer after face-off win

"Jake's an unbelievable player on his own," forward Jared McCann said. "He's not riding Sid's coattails or anything like that. He's his own player. He makes his own plays. He's a goal scorer. He does a lot of things good for us. 

"Whoever thinks that he's just riding Sid's coattails, that's the farthest thing from the truth. He's earned the respect around the League, I think, of being someone you have to watch."

With Crosby out, Guentzel has been playing on a line with center Evgeni Malkin. They were joined by right wing Bryan Rust, who had 10 points (four points, six assists) in his past six games before sustaining a lower-body injury during a morning skate Nov. 29

Rust is day-to-day and forward Patric Hornqvist is out longer-term with a lower-body injury sustained in practice Monday, when he started line rushes in Rust's spot on the first line.

Malkin missed 11 games from Oct. 5-Nov. 2 with a lower-body injury. Forwards Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk and McCann have also been injured at some point this season. 

Video: CGY@PIT: Guentzel wins it with wrist shot in overtime

Guentzel is one of six players to have played in each of Pittsburgh's 27 games; the others are forwards Brandon Tanev, Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger, and defenseman Marcus Pettersson.

The dependability and production Guentzel provides has been key for the Penguins (14-9-4), coach Mike Sullivan said.

"It's been critical to some of the wins we've gotten," he said. "Jake's been one of the more consistent players all year for us. He's just a really good player. I think he loves the game. He loves being on the ice. He loves to be with his teammates. I think his work habits and the way he approaches the game every day translates into consistency of play.

"He really has a knack for finding the back of the net. He can score, and then he plays the game with so much courage. He's willing to go to the areas to score. We're going to need him now to continue to bring that consistent approach to his game so that we can find ways to win games here."

That consistency is a result of Guentzel playing the same way regardless whether he's on the ice with Crosby or Malkin as his center.

Video: TOR@PIT: Malkin snaps transition goal between circles

"I think they're really both high-end players," Guentzel said. "Not much changes on my end. Both are really skilled. You want the puck on their stick. ... I don't want to change too much. When you're missing guys, I think you want to raise your play. I think that's what everyone's trying to do, but you don't want to change too much."

Consistency and the ability to rise to the occasion are important attributes of Guentzel, who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2017. Guentzel has 184 points (93 goals, 91 assists) in 231 regular-season games in the NHL and 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) in 41 playoff games.

That he produces with the help of Crosby and Malkin does not lessen his contributions to the Penguins.

"That's OK," McCann said. "Sometimes you like to play in the shadows. It's good to see him hopefully get some recognition."

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