The curious case of Jake Guentzel

Last postseason, the Penguins got to see the true potency of Jake Guentzel‘s shot as he led all postseason goal scorers. It was an incredible feat for the rookie. He scored 29 goals in 65 games between the regular season and postseason.

This season has been a struggle for Guentzel. He is sitting at 16 goals, his total in 40 games last season, through the first 55 games this season. That is a 24 goal pace over 82 games. For a player of Guentzel’s youth, that is a staggering number. But after last season’s explosion I think we can agree that the lack of goals this season are a bit disappointing considering some of the looks he’s gotten. He currently sits at 53.2 CF% which suggests the team creates offense with him on the ice.

Tuesday night against Vegas, Guentzel was able to put home a solid opportunity to get his 16th of the season and his first in five games. He also had a breakaway stopped on a solid opportunity by that former Penguins goaltender.

Guentzel has been scoring inconsistently this year, almost to the tune of Phil Kessel‘s first two years in Pittsburgh. He has endured goalless droughts of 7, 9, and 11 this season as well.

So what exactly is the problem for Guentzel this season?

We’ll start with his responsibilities as the team’s third line center for stretches.

As the third line center, Guentzel was given more of a responsibility defensively to be sound and play in a Nick Bonino type of role. Bonino isn’t close to the level of a game-breaking scorer that Guentzel is. In fact, Bonino has only had three double-digit scoring season’s in his nine seasons. Guentzel has reached double-digits in both of his season’s.

Bonino’s focus in the defensive game and killing penalties on top of his playoff resume is what made him $4 million AAV this past offseason. Guentzel was forced into that role and virtually switched his mindset, something head coach Mike Sullivan would prefer not to have and thus why Jim Rutherford may want ti acquire more depth down the center.

If you consider his changing of linemates on a pretty consistent basis a problem like I do, than you can include that here too. Of course, a lot of guys have been shuffled around this season due to injury and ineffectiveness.

Guentzel started the season with Sidney Crosby after their explosive postseason last year. He only had 3 goals and 7 points in his first 15 games and was moved down the lineup when the Penguins acquired Riley Sheahan to man their third line center. Guentzel, Sheahan and Kessel have found some awesome chemistry.

Unfortunately, it seems Dominik Simon may have lost his lust with Crosby as he has been decisively bad the last few games. This forced Sullivan to break up the third line and move Guentzel back with Crosby for the vast majority of the Vegas game. Subsequently, Guentzel buried one on his first shift with Sid.

They also played the Vegas game with nine forwards as Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney were injured and Simon didn’t see the ice after the first period.

Guentzel’s season has been far from a disappointment. Everyone on the team has hit a rough patch it seems at some point. Guentzel is too good of a scorer to not end up with 25 goals at season’s end. He has been a part of bad luck and unfortunate circumstances that have hindered his numbers a bit this season. He’ll heat up considerably, especially if he stays with Crosby.

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