PITTSBURGH, PA – Jake Guentzel's play-making helped the Pittsburgh Penguins withstand the loss of captain Sidney Crosby, earning his first All-Star team in the process. The joy over Guentzel's selection proved short-lived. The talented forward will miss at least four months after injuring his right shoulder late in a win over Ottawa on Monday night.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Guentzel underwent surgery on Tuesday and will be out 4-6 months. The 25-year-old Guentzel injured the shoulder when he slammed into the boards shortly after tapping in his team-high 20th goal of the season in the third period against the Senators. Guentzel slowly made his way to the bench, clutching his right arm, and walked directly to the dressing room.
“He’s not an easy guy to replace but we’ve lost some tough guys to replace throughout the course of this season, and I know we have the wherewithal to continue to find ways to win,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said.
Guentzel's potent scoring has helped the Penguins stay afloat during an injury-riddled first half. Veterans Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist have all missed significant time over the last three months. But Pittsburgh has found a way to stay in contention in the crowded Metropolitan Division. The win over Ottawa vaulted the Penguins into second place behind Washington.
Crosby, who hasn't played since having abdominal surgery in mid-November, skated with his teammates on Tuesday. But there remains no timetable for his possible return. The Penguins are 14-5-3 during his absence.
“Just seeing the collective effort it’s taken to this point, it’s been great to see and you want to be a part of that,” Crosby said. "It’s something that’s gotten us through a lot of these injuries.”
Crosby called it “tough” to see Guentzel go down in the 5-2 win. He fell over the stick of Ottawa's Thomas Chabot and landed face-first into the boards. Sullivan described Guentzel — who helped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2017 — “one of the elite players in the league.”
Guentzel had been playing on the top line alongside Malkin with Crosby out. Sullivan said the team will take it game-by-game when it comes to determining lineups. While Crosby's return date is still uncertain, his mere presence on Tuesday provided a boost.
“Sid is such a great leader for this team and our guys look up to him so much, the timing of him joining us I think was appropriate for the group,” Sullivan said. "I know our guys certainly get excited when he’s on the ice.”
The team estimated Crosby could be ready to return in about six weeks when he had the surgery after aggravating a sports hernia against Chicago on Nov. 9. He's now inside that window, but declined to give any specifics on when his familiar No. 87 might be ready. He said he won't play on Thursday when the Penguins host San Jose.
“Every week I’ve been able to do more and more, that’s positive,” Crosby said. "The team’s been playing unbelievable. ... Even before I got hurt, guys going down left and right and still finding ways to win.”