Guentzel clutch for Penguins
By Dan Scifo
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel couldn’t find the back of the net for several games during the Penguins’ recent slump.
Now that the Penguins are starting to hit stride, Guentzel is starting to fill the net.
Guentzel scored his first career regular-season hat trick and the Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Saturday night.
“He’s a pretty consistent player for us,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The thing I like about Jake is, even when he doesn’t score, he plays the game the right way. He just has a high intellect and reads plays well, but when he scores, he helps us win.”
Guentzel’s first career hat trick came in the 2017 playoffs against Columbus, and he had another in the 2018 playoffs against Philadelphia.
Guentzel has scored six goals in his last seven games overall after failing to score in the previous seven. He has 16 points in 13 regular-season and playoff games against Columbus. Guentzel also has nine goals, including two hat tricks, in his last eight games against the Blue Jackets.
“Pucks just kind of keep finding me,” Guentzel said. “They’re just going in right now, so you have to try and ride it as long as you can.”
Tanner Pearson also scored for the Penguins, who have won two of their last three after losing nine of their previous 10. Kris Letang had three assists and Sidney Crosby two. Phil Kessel continued an eight-game point streak for Pittsburgh and Evgeni Malkin has a seven-game run.
Pittsburgh won its sixth straight against the Blue Jackets, matching the longest win streak against Columbus. The Penguins also won their sixth straight at home against the Blue Jackets.
Casey DeSmith made 37 saves for Pittsburgh.
“I think we have improved the last four or five games,” Letang said. “We’ve been playing a lot better. We don’t get the result we want every time, but I think this was proof that we’re on the right track.”
Cam Atkinson continued a career-best, seven-game goal streak with his 15th of the season. He tied the all-time franchise mark set in November 2002 by Geoff Sanderson. Atkinson, with nine goals and 13 points in seven games, owns the longest goal-scoring streak of any NHL player this season.
“It was a nice, lucky goal, I guess,” Atkinson said. “I used their guy as a screen and it just happened to go in. That’s my game. I just keep shooting. When you have the hot stick, you have to shoot a little bit more and good things happen.”
Scott Harrington also scored for the Blue Jackets, who lost for the second time in three games after winning five of their previous six. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 32 shots for the Blue Jackets.
“We played a good third period,” Atkinson said. “We had chances, we just didn’t capitalize and bury those opportunities.”
Harrington, Pearson and Guentzel scored three goals in 2:13 as Pittsburgh held an early 2-1 lead.
Harrington, Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2011, opened the scoring for Columbus, but Pearson responded 45 seconds later with his third goal in four games.
Guentzel took a drop pass from Crosby and sent a wrist shot behind Korpisalo from the slot to put Pittsburgh in front.
Guentzel scored again on a second Crosby drop pass later in the period. Crosby powered around Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara and dropped a pass to Guentzel, who beat Korpisalo to the blocker side with a wrist shot.
“(Crosby) is really good on his backhand, so you have to be ready at all times,” Guentzel said. “I was fortunate to be on the end of that.”
Atkinson made it 3-2 when he scored in his seventh straight, but Guentzel restored Pittsburgh’s two-goal lead with his third of the game, a backhander from the top of the crease.
“Sometimes the puck goes in, and other times it doesn’t, but (Guentzel) is on it every night in some capacity,” Sullivan said. “He had a strong game and he’s definitely a guy we’re going to rely on moving forward.”
Game notes: Both teams had goals disallowed in the second period. … Penguins’ F Patric Hornqvist missed the game with a concussion. … Malkin tied Jaromir Jagr for third on the team’s all-time games played list and Letang equaled Brooks Orpik for most by a defenseman in team history. … Penguins’ D Jack Johnson played his former team for the first time since signing a five-year, free-agent contract with Pittsburgh in the offseason. Johnson spent seven seasons in Columbus. … Mike Sullivan coached in his 240th game with the Penguins, tying Bob Berry and Johnny Wilson for fifth-most in franchise history.
Blue Jackets: Visit Detroit on Monday.
Penguins: Travel to Winnipeg on Tuesday.