Jake Guentzel proving to be the elite winger Sidney Crosby never had
Joe Sargent / National Hockey League / Getty

PITTSBURGH - These days, if the Pittsburgh Penguins score a goal, there’s an excellent chance Sidney Crosby is involved.

Crosby has been on the ice for all 10 of the Penguins’ goals in their second-round series against the Washington Capitals, which resumes Saturday night in Washington with the teams tied at two wins apiece.

He's been a terror, recording multiple points in three of the series' first four games - giving him seven multi-point efforts in the postseason. It's no surprise to his teammates or head coach Mike Sullivan.

“I just think he’s the best player in the game,” Sullivan said. “He’s the best player in the game. He plays his best when the stakes are high, he plays at both ends of the rink. We rely on him to defend, we rely on him to score goals and create offense, and he’s really good at both. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Ranked second among active players in playoff points with 183 - Behind only Jaromir Jagr, though you can dispute his "active" status - Crosby looks every bit the two-time Conn Smythe winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion. As if there was any question he would rise to the occasion.

“Since I’ve been his coach, that’s been my experience with him,” Sullivan said. “I just have so much respect for the type of person that he is, the type of player that he is, the care factor he has for the team and winning. He always elevates his game whenever our team needs it."

And Jake Guentzel has elevated his play alongside his star center.

Guentzel has been red-hot in the playoffs, scoring nine goals while racking up a league-best 21 points - equaling his total from last year’s postseason. His four-goal explosion in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers advanced the Penguins to the second round.

He was at it again in Game 4 on Thursday, scoring two goals on eight shot attempts in a 3-1 win against the Capitals. The 23-year-old now has 23 goals in 35 career playoff games; his 0.66 goals per game is the best mark among active players who have played at least 25 playoff games.

“Last year he surprised me,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. “This year I expected it. This is the mentality in this locker room. We expect always more from each other.”

It seemed like the Penguins spent years searching for a winger for Crosby. Since Guentzel was called up for a second time in January last year, he's almost continuously been on the Penguins captain's line.

They have similar styles, and that's led to big plays and big goals. It's also the reason the Penguins have been able to keep up with the Capitals.

“They’re two players that like to go (into) traffic, they like to hold onto pucks, they like the physical game,” Letang said. “When you have the matchup like we had tonight, in a tight game like this, these are the guys that are gonna get rewarded. They go to the net hard and they get rewarded."

It doesn’t seem to matter who’s playing on Crosby’s right wing, either. Patric Hornqvist had been on Crosby’s line and scored a pair of goals against the Capitals. Then Sullivan shook things up in Game 4 and put Dominik Simon on the top line. Simon assisted on Guentzel’s first goal of the night.

Getting Evgeni Malkin back in Game 3 gave the Penguins' offense more juice, but the rest of the team hasn’t been able to get anything going. Derick Brassard, Phil Kessel, and Riley Sheahan all scored in the opening round against the Flyers, but have been silent against Washington.

That won't be a problem as long as Crosby and Guentzel can keep producing the way they have been all spring.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Jake Guentzel proving to be the elite winger Sidney Crosby never had
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