What the Pittsburgh Penguins have been able to do has been nothing short of amazing. One of the biggest reasons for their success the past three seasons has been their amazing depth... having the ability to roll out line after line with a threat to score.
It didn’t work out exactly the way they might have wanted, but all that matters is that it got them there.
When the Penguins traded for Phil Kessel before the 2015/16 season, the hope was that he would be able to play on the same line as either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Whichever one, it didn’t really matter, but they were hoping they finally found a permanent answer on one of the top two lines.
Instead, they found something better.
It didn’t take long to realize that Kessel, despite being a winger, was at his absolute best with the puck on his stick. He was more than just a shooter. He could create for others and transition the puck through the neutral zone.
He needed his own line to be successful, and Pesident Obama obliged, ‘Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup winner’.
This season, Kessel is in the midst of maybe his best offensive season, currently sitting at 69 points, he is very much on pace to break his career mark of 80.
Jake Guentzel had himself quite the professional debut. After scoring 21 goals in 33 games in the AHL, Guentzel got the call to the Penguins, where he scored two in his first-ever contest. Through the AHL and NHL regular seasons, as well as the postseason, the Penguins third-round pick from 2013 registered 50 goals.
This season has been a struggle at times, he himself even admitted so. However, if a 23-year-old second-year pro calls himself out about his play, but still manages to hit the 20-goal mark with another 20 games to go, that is saying something.
That was a nasty pass by Kessel, who set up Guentzel so perfectly, all he had to do was tap it into the open net.
They may not have a nickname yet, after their acquisition of Derick Brassard it’s probably best they didn’t so they could come up with one now, but the tandem of Guentzel and Kessel has been a key driving force of the Penguins utter dominance since the turn of the calendar year.
Riley Sheahan played formidably and deserves credit for stepping up his game the past few games, but what Kessel and Guentzel have going right now is something that should have the rest of the league sweating.
Over their last 10 games, Kessel and Guentzel have combined for 21 points (10 G, 11 A) and a look at their 5v5 numbers, they are clearly lifting each others' play.
|Guentzel w/o Kessel||55:18||46.32||1.08||25%||37.97||3.45%|
|Kessel w/o Guentzel||75:21||46.69||3.98||55.56%||29.46||11.36%|
|Team w/o both||289:46||51.50||3.93||61.29%||29.4||12.58%|
Over the last 10 games, Kessel and Guentzel have been together for 80:39 and have done nothing but score. Their 5.95 goals-for-per 60 (GF/60) is more than two goals higher than what the Pens do when the duo isn’t on the ice together.
They shoot 4% higher as well, compared to when they aren’t on. Kessel has done great with no matter who has been on the ice, but even the presence of Guentzel lifts his play that much more. They have a lower puck possession mark relative to rest of the team, but both are below 50% when on the ice separately.
There is no telling what adding a new player to a team will do to their chemistry. Even though Brassard is a legitimate second line-caliber center, there is no guarantee he completely meshes with Kessel and Guentzel.
Anyone who has put up 18 goals and 20 assists on a bad Ottawa Senators team, and has seasons where he has put up 60, 58, and 45, though, has a good chance of only adding to an already highly skilled line.
This isn’t a guarantee that Head Coach Mike Sullivan puts them together, but right now with how Guentzel and Kessel are playing together, it would make the most sense to slide Brassard down the middle of the two.
If Brassard can play decoy, and crash the net, it could allow for an easy transition to his new team. Both Guentzel and Kessel are very skilled passers, despite sometimes being known for their goal scoring.This could allow them to play wide, spreading the defense out, have Brassard attack the net to push back the defenders creating space for Guentzel and Kessel. They showed on Kessel's first goal of the night that they can make a strong cross-ice pass.
Imagine how much an easier pass that is having a third threat on the ice in Brassard? Maybe one who can cancel out one of those defenders completely?
What they give the Penguins is an advantage that no other team can offer right now, three lines that on any given night could be mistaken for the team’s top trio.
It could be argued that a line consisting of Guentzel-Brassard-Kessel can outmatch some other team’s top lines. Come playoff time, it becomes a nightmare trying to play any match ups, as all three of your pairings are going to have their hands full anyways.
The Penguins will once again be a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and all though Brassard may complete their third line, they started their tear on the league once Kessel and Guentzel synced in with each other.
Have the odds on the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup again gone up after adding Brassard? Will he be a good fit in between Kessel and Guentzel? Let us know in the comment section below!