Penguins’ Sidney Crosby happy to have Jake Guentzel as his left-hand man |
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Jonathan Bombulie
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his goal with teammate Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C.

When a pregame announcement letting fans know that Jake Guentzel had signed a five-year contract extension worth $30 million flashed across the PPG Paints Arena scoreboard on Thursday night, the crowd responded with a hearty ovation.

Sidney Crosby was in the locker room preparing to take on the Detroit Red Wings at the time, but if he had been in the stands, he probably would have given a round of applause, too.

Among all the good reasons to lock up a talented young scorer like Guentzel to a longer-term contract, one stands above the rest: It will give Crosby a suitable partner in crime throughout the rest of his early 30s.

Whether it’s on the ice, where Guentzel usually plays on Crosby’s left wing, or in the locker room, where Guentzel sits in the stall to Crosby’s left, the pair will be joined at the hip for the foreseeable future.

“Whether he likes it or not,” Crosby joked after practice Friday afternoon.

Crosby has clicked with a handful of wingers in the decade-plus since he started out as a fresh-faced 18-year-old with John LeClair and Mark Recchi by his side in 2005. His combination with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis in the first half of this decade was a cornerstone of the team’s success for long stretches of time. Marian Hossa’s short stay on Crosby’s wing was memorable.

By the time his new contract expires, however, it’s not hard to imagine Guentzel will end up being the winger who has the most sustained successful partnership with Crosby in his entire career.

“He’s had a lot of success, right from his first shift,” Crosby said. “He came in right away and made an impact and he’s been consistent since then. He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s done a lot of really important things for us.”

The most important reason Guentzel and Crosby have clicked over the past two-plus seasons is that they see the game in a similar way. Guentzel is a coach’s kid. Crosby is the consummate student of the game. They play on the same wavelength.

“It’s just being able to anticipate plays,” Crosby said. “He’s reacting a lot of the time out there, not necessarily having to think. A lot of times when you have to think, you’re a step behind or you’re hesitant. He’s just got good hockey sense. He knows where to go to support the puck, where to go to find holes. He can make plays when the puck’s on his stick, too.”

Another reason they’ve had success together is Guentzel’s eagerness to sit under Crosby’s learning tree. When the captain pulls out an iPad to review a play on the bench, Guentzel is often looking right over his shoulder.

“Just the way he sees things, his point of view on different situations, you would never expect anyone to see plays the way he does,” Guentzel said. “I’m learning stuff every day.”

Anytime Crosby is asked about his linemates, he always starts with a caveat. There are plenty of talented forwards on the roster, he’ll say, and they’ve all played together at one point or another. It doesn’t really matter who is slotted with whom.

He didn’t stray from that belief when discussing Guentzel’s contract extension on Friday, but he did admit the obvious. He’s happy his left-hand man will be sticking around for a while.

“It’s been tough the last few years to keep the team together,” Crosby said. “I think a lot of teams deal with that turnover, trying to keep a core group. He’s a younger guy, but to know that we’re going to have him for the next five years, it’s great. You want to build and create chemistry. As forwards, we’ve all played with different guys, but it’ll be great to have him.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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