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Mar 25, 2024 1:24 pm

Jake Guentzel back in Pittsburgh as Hurricanes face Penguins

Jake Guentzel

Carolina Hurricanes winger Jake Guentzel makes his return to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to play against his original team, the Penguins, and one thing is certain: There will be a tribute video.

Surely there will be emotion, but Guentzel, who was traded to Carolina less than three weeks ago, isn’t quite sure what to expect despite seeing such tributes for many other players over the years.

“I don’t know,” Guentzel said. “It’s going to be interesting, but I’m excited for it.”

Guentzel, 29, was one of the top players who were available and moved at the NHL trade deadline. He was swapped, along with defenseman Ty Smith, for winger Michael Bunting, prospects and draft picks.

While winning a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, Guentzel put two 40-goal seasons on his resume and became a fixture on the Penguins’ top line centered by superstar Sidney Crosby.

But the teams are in different places these days. Carolina (45-20-7) is 9-1-1 since the day of the Guentzel trade and in contention for the Metropolitan Division title. Pittsburgh (30-30-10), while not officially eliminated from playoff contention, is essentially playing out the string.

Guentzel initially struggled with the trade but in eight games with the Hurricanes, he has two goals and 12 points while playing primarily with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis.

Aho had a goal Sunday in Carolina’s 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, extending his point streak to six games and giving him 80 points, including 31 goals.

“I feel like I still have another level to get to, and I just keep working for it,” Aho, 26, said. “I’m a fairly young guy, and I feel like I can improve in many areas.”

Guentzel assisted on Aho’s goal Sunday. Now he gets to see how he and the Hurricanes fare in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins became sellers and traded a top player such as Guentzel when it became clear that this season was falling way short of expectations.

They are 3-9-2 since Feb. 29 and are coming off one of several gut-wrenching losses.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh shot to a 4-0 lead playing at Colorado against one of the top teams in the league, only to have the Avalanche storm back to tie it and then win 5-4 in overtime.

“You can’t blow a lead like that,” said the Penguins’ Drew O’Connor, who has been playing in Guentzel’s old spot on Crosby’s left wing.

Not only was the defeat demoralizing, but it also wasted a four-point effort by Crosby, who scored a high-skill deflection goal and had three assists to figure on all of his team’s goals.

Bunting has three goals and six points in nine games with Pittsburgh. He has fit in nicely but is not on Guentzel’s level.

Consistency has plagued the Penguins all season.

“We’re capable of playing really good hockey for almost two periods or half a game,” Pittsburgh center Lars Eller said. “So if you can do it for 30 minutes, I think you can do it for 60.”

That hasn’t happened often enough for the Penguins’ liking.

“It sucks,” Pittsburgh defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph said. “We’ve been battling for a long time, and things are just not going our way.”

–Field Level Media

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