Each year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a player comes out of nowhere and elevates his offensive totals, usually a third or fourth line player, much like former New Jersey Devil Jay Pandolfo did for the Devils in their 2003 Stanley Cup victory. That year, Pandolfo potted six goals and added six assists, whereas in his entire career, he never scored more than 14 goals in the complete regular season. New Jersey was a defensive juggernaut in the late 90’s and early years of the century, and a 12-point breakout from a career shut-down forward was awe inspiring for his Devils teammates.
Last year, I wrote about the Pittsburgh Penguins' Nick Bonino and his excellent play in the 2016 playoffs, and how that play made his line mates even harder to handle while taking pressure off superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, who could have easily won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP over net minder Matt Murray, benefited directly from Bonino’s caliber of play.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel is most definitely in the Pandolfo Zone this postseason, and has fully benefited from skating with either Malkin or Crosby in these playoffs. Pittsburgh Penguins occupy the top four spots in the playoff scoring race, where Guentzel is third with 20 points, trailing Malkin (26) and Crosby (24). Jake’s 13 goals in 23 playoff games is the most in this year’s playoffs, after scoring 16 in 40 regular season games with 33 points.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey product is scoring in every aspect of the game. He has more even strength goals with eleven than anyone else has total goals. With just one on the Pens lethal power-play, but one short-handed, and five game-winners, in laymen’s terms, he is everywhere and making a huge impact. His blistering shooting percentage is at 27.7% and leads all active players on just 47 shots, which is currently good for fifth in the NHL Playoffs. Everyone else in the top-30 is no longer in the playoffs, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen is 30th at 20%, but injury has claimed his playoff run, and he is no longer available to help the Predators break through the defending champions.
Along with feeling the Pandolfo Effect, Guentzel is doing exactly what teammate Conor Sheary did last year in his freshman campaign with the Penguins, but with much more success. The rookie upstart earned his keep in the playoffs and never looked back. Last season, Sheary played 44 regular season games with seven goals and ten points, but then thrust into the playoff mix, he scored the same regular season total of ten points in just 23 playoff games skating alongside Sidney Crosby. Who you skate with makes all the difference in the world.
While the cupboards are depleted on the defensive end of the Penguins ice, the forward unit keeps springing to life young offensive-minded players who are making a huge difference in the playoffs. Along with all of his offensive contributions, Jake is laying his body out each night with his physical play with 29 hits and 13 blocked shots, which has become the norm in the NHL playoffs, all this while averaging only 17.35 minutes of ice time.
Guentzel was never really a prolific scorer at any point of his developmental process, yet he is continually showing up in the crunch minutes for Pittsburgh, and I’m sure he has never skated with anyone in that same process that was half as skilled as Evgeni Malkin.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk hockey or anything fantasy.