Yes, there’s more bad injury news for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As Jake Guentzel notched his 20th goal of the season and 200th point of his NHL career during Monday’s win over the Ottawa Senators, he tripped head-first at full-speed straight into the boards. He immediately clutched his arm in pain and, fortunately, skated to the locker room under his own power. This came just hours after he was announced as a 2020 NHL All-Star.
After the game, head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t have an update on Guentzel’s status yet, saying that he was still be being evaluated and there may be an update tomorrow. While there’s hope that he avoided anything too serious, it would be a small miracle if he didn’t miss any time.
Penguins May Lose Their Most Durable Skater
Everyone around the league knows how bad the injuries have been for the Penguins this season. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and nearly every other impactful player has missed time during the 2019-20 campaign, leaving Sullivan to throw together lineups held up by duct tape and superglue.
Jake Guentzel was the exception.
Including’s Monday’s win over the Ottawa Senators, the 25-year-old winger has played in all 203 of the Penguins’ regular-season contests since the start of the 2017-18 season. For good measure, he hasn’t missed any postseason action during that time either. Brian Dumoulin is second on the team during that span with 179 games played during the regular season.
Guentzel’s goal Monday capped off a three-point night as he and linemates Malkin and Bryan Rust continued to dominate. With eight combined points Monday, that trio racked up 17 goals and 47 points during the month of December. This line was so good that Sullivan may have had to consider keeping Guentzel alongside Malkin even after Crosby’s return.
Since the 2017-18 season, roughly two-thirds of Guentzel’s 5-on-5 time has come with Crosby as his center. Clearly it works, as Guentzel became a 40-goal scorer last season at age 24. However, his December with Malkin and Rust has been even better.
That trio owns a 57.3 Corsi percentage and a terrific 62.7 expected goals-for percentage since the start of December. They’re a big reason why the Penguins have gone 14-5-3 in games without Crosby in the lineup. With that much chemistry, both on their line and as a whole team, would Sullivan break it up to pair Guentzel with Crosby again?
If Guentzel doesn’t get hurt, maybe he sticks with Malkin for a bit longer because of the chemistry they’ve built. Now, he’ll likely jump right back in with Crosby once the two are both healthy because that’s where he’s played the most during his NHL career.
What Happens Now?
Ideally, Guentzel just suffered a stinger against the boards and misses a game or two. It’s much more likely that he misses more time than that right as Crosby is set to return within the next few games. A rough outline of the Penguins’ forward lines with Crosby — but without Guentzel — would like like this:
The only thing there that would seem concrete is Rust and Malkin staying together. Anything else is fair game for the other seven wingers.
Alex Galchenyuk is slowly picking up his scoring pace, so Sullivan could try to light him up alongside Crosby on the top line. Perhaps Brandon Tanev’s limitless energy or Dominik Kahun’s terrific shooting percentage (15.8 percent) will earn one of them some extra top-six minutes.
Any way you slice it, the lineup is going to hurt if Guentzel misses any significant time. Will this injury be the one to send the Penguins spiraling or will they overcome it like they have all season long?
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.