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The Penguins don’t have a problem this season — they have problems, plural, and every time they think they have one figured out, another one pops up.

They’re obviously getting inconsistent scoring throughout the lineup. Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin are all having down offensive seasons vs. 2016-17. As mentioned here, their even-strength scoring is down overall, and the Penguins have too often looked like a team with a lot of miles on its tires from the past two Stanley Cup championship runs.

But if there’s one number that really sticks out about the Penguins this season, it’s their record in one-goal games. First, it’s the fact that they’ve played a lot of them in a season that has seen its share of large margins of victories. More than half of Pittsburgh’s games — 17 out of 32 this season — have been decided by one goal. Last season, only 22 of its 82 games were one-goal games.

Last season, the Penguins won 19 of their one-goal games and only lost three. This season? They’ve won 10 and lost seven — the most losses in games decided by one goal in the NHL. That doesn’t include three overtime losses, which are obviously also by a one-goal margin.

Their offensive woes are part of these struggles in close games, but there’s another significant change from last season on the defensive side: The Penguins have gone from a .914 team save percentage to an .896 this season. It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has gotten substandard goaltending from its backup netminders in 2017 — it was swell, Antti Niemi — but starter Matt Murray has been no great shakes either, with a very ordinary .910 EV save percentage, down from .932 last season.

The Penguins hope that Murray will bounce back now that he’s off injured reserve, and the Penguins can start picking up wins in the closely decided games.

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Score more goals at even strength! That’s a panacea for any ailing team, but the Penguins’ 5-on-5 production doesn’t resemble what we’re used to from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. As of Tuesday, the Penguins had 45 goals at even strength. Where does that rank in the league? A measly 29th. Only the San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres are worse. Pittsburgh has also allowed 103 goals at even strength, which is tied for the second-worst mark in the league. The Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers join Pittsburgh in the cellar. So what gives?

Slow starts also plagued the Pens early in the season and haven’t improved much since. Bottom-six depth has been a concern for this team since it parted ways with veterans Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. Preseason darling Greg McKegg just couldn’t keep up and landed on the waiver wire last week.

When I watch Pittsburgh, I see a team that looks tired. Maybe the past few seasons are finally taking a toll. How can this be fixed, Penguins fans might ask? An injection of energy — perhaps via a trade — can’t hurt. Offer this roster some fresh legs. Remain hopeful that 23-year-old Dominik Simon can sustain some of the excitement he brought while playing top-line minutes with Sidney Crosby this week. And score early and often on 5-on-5. For as much as the Penguins haven’t looked like themselves early on, and as wild as it is to see them fifth in the division, they’re still in the hunt.

Chris Peters, NHL Insider: I think the Penguins could potentially benefit from a trade, particularly to bring in some scoring depth to make their bottom six more of a threat. Pittsburgh has somewhat limited assets to make such a trade, however. Ian Cole seems like the obvious candidate based on the reports and rumors about him, but I feel like that might plug one hole by creating another in the defensive-depth department. I do potentially like the idea of fresh blood coming in — players who are hungry for an opportunity. Pittsburgh had been able to do that internally with Bryan Rust, Sheary and Murray two years ago, and Guentzel last year. It would be awfully hard for Simon to move the needle as much as those guys did, hence the need for [Penguins GM Jim] Rutherford to look externally.

Then again, I think the Pens still have enough talent on the roster to get out of the funk. It just may take a little more creativity. Staying the course may be an uninteresting option, but Pittsburgh has the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league right now. It’s hard to expect that to continue. It may not be as easy as snapping one’s fingers so that the goals magically start dropping, but it’s easier to expect things to change when you have this particular roster. Also, if they’re really trying to get that ol’ shooting percentage up, just keep passing the puck to Phil Kessel. The Thrill is on fire right now, with seven goals in his past nine games, and is on a career-best goal-scoring pace.

Finally, now that Murray is back, the Pens have to figure out the right workload for him. With Tristan Jarry showing that he might be ready to take on a few more starts, they can take some of the burden off of their young No. 1 goalie. The amount of hockey this team has played, coming off of back-to-back Cup seasons, undoubtedly puts a strain on the whole team, but especially on Murray, who was essentially thrust into the role while he was still figuring out how to be a goalie in the NHL (and that’s not just about stopping pucks and playing games). He has a pair of Stanley Cups to show he passed the test, but this is still his first full year as The Guy. Keeping him healthy and as fresh as possible should be a priority going forward, especially if the team keeps struggling to score.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 4-2 loss against the Vancouver Caucks at Rogers Arena.

* The Pens fell in the finale of their season-long 5 game road trip. Although there was a lot to like about the game for Pittsburgh – its effort, chances generated, ice titled – it didn’t net them the desired result. Pittsburgh finished 1-3-1 on the trip, including 1-1-1 in western Canada.

* Jake Guentzel set a Pens’ rookie record with 13 playoffs goals last season, which was the 2nd-most ever in NHL history. But goals have been sparse for Guentzel at the start of the 2016-17 season. He only had 3 goals in the first 15 games of the current campaign. Guentzel has been getting chances, but the pucks just haven’t gone in.

The coaching staff, trying to get Guentzel going, gave him a shift with the top power-play unit. And the move worked. Sidney Crosby made a behind-the-back, between-the-legs pass from the slot to Phil Kessel at the near dot. Kessel immediately snapped the puck to the opposite part of the crease to Guentzel, who re-directed it in for his 4th of the season.

* Speaking of, the Pens’ power play continues to be a lethal weapon. They already ranked second in the NHL entering the contest against Vancouver. Pittsburgh only added to its success with another man-advantage tally against the Canucks.

The Pens’ power play has scored in 10 of the team’s 11 road games this season. Pittsburgh’s road power play is clicking at an astronomical 39.5-percent rate (15 of 38). With the Pens’ 5-on-5 scoring lacking, their power play has been a huge reason they’ve been able to have any success.

* Matt Murray had owned the Canucks during his brief NHL career. He was perfect in the first two outings against Vancouver, stopping all 56 shots against to record two shutouts. Vancouver broke that shutout streak at 127:07 minutes with a goal from Brock Boeser. He would add two more for the hat trick, and an assist for a 4-point night.

* The Pens defensive corps – already missing Justin Schultz and Matt Hunwick with concussions – took a beating in the game. Brian Dumoulin was hobbled while blocking a shot. Olli Maatta was stunned when he was tripped and went headfirst into the boards. Kris Letang laid out his body to stop a pass in the defensive zone and his momentum carried him into the boards. He played the rest of the shift hunched over in pain. And Frank Corrado was launched by Derek Dorsett into the boards. He left the game briefly, but returned. It was a bruising night for the blue line, but they battled through it.

The forwards didn’t have things much better as winger Phil Kessel was slew-footed and fell backwards on the ice, jarring his head. He left for the remainder of the second period, but was back on the ice to start the final frame and finished the game.

* Credit must be given to goaltender Jacob Markstrom. He made several incredible saves throughout the course of the game. Particularly on Kessel, who could have had three goals on the night with all the glorious chances he had. But Markstrom wasn’t having any of it.

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As the 2013 NHL Draft entered the third round and Pittsburgh was getting closer to its pick, former Penguins amateur scout Scott Bell was getting nervous.

Though he was only coming off of his first season with Pittsburgh, there was a player Bell had been watching for years in his native Minnesota who was on the Penguins’ draft board. That was Jake Guentzel, who had first gotten on Bell’s radar during tryouts for USA Hockey’s Select 15 Camp despite his lack of size.

“He weighed 105 pounds and he was like 5-1,” Bell said with a laugh. “But he was this magic little player that everybody said, ‘he’s too small, he’s too small.’ Then he just kept scoring points and making plays.”

Bell used Guentzel’s performance there as the baseline for when he watched him play in the state championship game with Hill-Murray School following a season where the forward posted 74 points (24G-50A) as a senior.

And with the USHL being Bell’s assigned area to cover as a Penguins scout, he saw a lot of Guentzel after he joined the Sioux City Musketeers for his draft year in 2012-13. Bell watched as Guentzel finished with 73 points (29G-44A) in 60 games, tying a Tier-1 USHL record with a 21-game scoring streak (16G-27A-43PTS).

“At every level, he has always overcome his size,” Bell said. “When he got to the USHL, he was doing the same thing. And I was like well, there’s a pattern here of 6-7 years.”

That prompted Randy Sexton, then the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting and current assistant GM with the Buffalo Sabres, to come out and take a look at Guentzel – where he said something that hit home for Bell, who grew up in Inver Grove Heights and played at the University of Minnesota.

“He made the comment, ‘oh, he reminds me of a young Neal Broten,’” Bell said. “And for us, Neal Broten – he won the Hobey Baker, he played for the North Stars, he played for New Jersey and won a Stanley Cup and a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. And it was like well, if he’s comparing him to Neal Broten, I’m onto something here. So that gave me some confidence with him.”

After that, the Penguins put Guentzel on the draft board that they took with them to the Prudential Center in New Jersey, where all seven rounds of the draft took place in one day because of the previous season’s work stoppage.

With their first pick, Pittsburgh traded up to draft goaltender Tristan Jarry in the second round (44th overall). And with their second pick, which was 77th overall – received as part of the trade that sent Joe Morrow and a fifth-round pick to Dallas in exchange for Brenden Morrow – Bell was praying that the Penguins would take Guentzel.

As the third round progressed, everything was going well until it was time for the 76th selection, which was held by the New York Islanders. Bell knew that Trent Klatt, an Islanders amateur scout from Minnesota, knew Guentzel and Bell was worried that the Islanders might take him.

Bell waited with bated breath as the Islanders were on the clock. From their draft table, they took the microphone and began to announce their pick.

“From the USHL…”

Bell’s heart dropped.

“I assumed ‘oh, they’re taking Jake Guentzel,’” Bell said. “I felt like I was going to throw up because we lost him. I really did. I felt sick to my stomach.”

The anticipation built as the Islanders named their selection.

“From Waterloo, Taylor Cammarata.”

And with that, the anxiety Bell was feeling transformed into pure joy.

“I jumped up, like ‘oh my god, we’re going to get (Guentzel)! This is so wonderful,’” Bell laughed. “It was a feeling of sickness to ecstasy in about a two-minute span.”

After Guentzel went through everything a draft pick does, like stopping at Pittsburgh’s draft table, doing media and taking his draft portraits, he went to the Penguins’ suite to meet the rest of the scouts.

“All of the other scouts hadn’t seen Jake,” Bell recalled. “They’re like, ‘that’s your guy?’ I’m like, ‘that’s him.’ They’re like, ‘the kid that looks like a fourth-grader? We took him?’ I’m like yeah, ‘that’s him. He’s awesome.’”

Now, four years later, Guentzel is a Stanley Cup champion who led the NHL in postseason goals (13) and game-winning goals (5) playing alongside Sidney Crosby in the 2017 playoffs.

His 21 playoff points tied the league record for a rookie, while the five game-winners were a new NHL rookie mark. So what was it that Bell saw in Guentzel, despite the lack of size, that made him think he would be able to have such success at this level?

“Honestly, I always thought he was the smartest player on the ice,” Bell said. “Aside from anything else – skill level, skating – he has always been the smartest. I went back and looked at my reports on him, and most of my reports were, ‘He was the smartest guy on the ice.’ Every time. When you’re revisiting things, that was the one consistent thing with Jake Guentzel, his hockey IQ. It’s off the charts.”

Bell pointed out the goal Guentzel scored off a setup from Crosby in Pittsburgh’s preseason game against Buffalo on Sept. 27 as a perfect example of that (watch it here).

“He saw that coming and so did ‘Sid,’” Bell said. “No one else. He was moving to that spot before the puck even got to Sid. He did stuff like that all the time, even when he was younger. He was always moving ahead of people, or even when he played with not as high-level players as Crosby, he still was a step ahead of everybody.”

Bell pointed out that while Crosby and Guentzel made that play look easy, it’s actually a complicated one. It began with Conor Sheary digging the puck out from along the boards and sending a short, crisp pass to Crosby, who moved into the slot. Guentzel, who had drifted behind the net, recognized the play unfolding and jumped out to the side of the net. Crosby put it right on his stick, and Guentzel one-timed it into the yawning cage.

“It’s a perfect example of how they work,” Bell said. “Because Sid was passing there before he even got the puck and Jake was moving there. Their minds were two steps ahead of everybody else on the ice, and they were both on the same page. Jake saw the puck going in that direction, he knew Sid was going to get to it first, and Sid knew Jake was going to go over there because that’s the open ice. And then he taps it in.”

That’s why Guentzel is such a good fit on Crosby’s wing. He actually played center for the majority of his career until he turned pro, and was viewed as more of a playmaker than a scorer. Especially coming out the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where Guentzel finished with 30 goals in 108 career games played with the Mavericks.

“He just didn’t get the production because he had a hard time playing with people,” Bell said. “I think that’s why he was more of a passer, because he always had to make the plays because he was two steps ahead, and no one else was two steps ahead to give him the puck. Now he’s with somebody who’s on the same level.”

And with that, it’s no surprise that Guentzel and Crosby have picked up right where they left off. They played together all of training camp, where Guentzel finished second in the NHL with nine preseason points. That chemistry continued into the season opener on Wednesday, where they combined for four points.

With younger players, sometimes management feels like it’s important to manage expectations. And that could have been the case for Guentzel, especially considering he spent the first half of his rookie season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has yet to play a full NHL season. But as Mike Sullivan said, expectations for Guentzel – who scored 16 goals in 40 regular-season games with the Pens last year – are high.

“I think Jake has built a body of work where it’s hard not to have high expectations,” Sullivan said with a smile. “He’s a really good hockey player and shows no signs of slowing down. He has great hockey sense, he’s a competitive kid, he thinks the game on a high level, and he has a quiet confidence about him that I think really helps him as a young pro. So internally, we have high expectations of him because we think he’s a really good player.”

And Guentzel’s expectations for himself are high as well.

After he joined WBS for their 2016 Calder Cup run following his junior year in Omaha, he scored five goals and 14 points in just 10 games. And that summer, assistant general manager Bill Guerin said that because Guentzel came in and played so well, he wouldn’t be a secret in that league anymore. He’d have to come in and earn it all over again.

That’s the same mindset Guentzel has had coming into this year despite his success. As Sullivan has said, it’s not in his nature to get complacent, and Guentzel is aware that he’s certainly not a secret in this league anymore.

Following the first period of Pittsburgh’s eventual 4-2 win over Philadelphia in the Stadium Series, as the Flyers headed to the locker room, one of them said, “Who is this 59 kid?” They didn’t know Guentzel then, but now the entire league knows his number and his name.

Simply playing on a line with Crosby attracts plenty of attention from opposing teams, but with what Guentzel accomplished last year, he’d attract attention regardless of what line he was on. And he said he’s looking forward to the challenge of that.

“Obviously, other teams might know about you a little bit, but you’ve got to come back in and do the little things that worked last year,” Guentzel said. “You’ve got to be on top of your game every night and do the little things to keep your game going well. Obviously it’s going to be a little tougher this year, but that makes it more fun.”

His biggest goal, Guentzel said, is to avoid any slumps and try to be as consistent as possible for a full season. To help prepare for that, he spent the summer training with his brother Gabe, who plays in Europe, at the University of Minnesota, where his dad Mike is associate head coach for the Gophers men’s hockey team (Bell just joined the staff as an assistant coach). When Jake wasn’t working out with strength coach Cal Dietz, he was playing alongside other NHL players in Da Beauty League in Edina, which formed last summer.

“You kind of do what you’ve been doing for the last couple years and just try to be ready for a longer season, get that conditioning,” Guentzel said. “You’ve just got to try and adjust to an 82-game schedule and be ready for that.”

It helps that he feels confident and comfortable, both playing with Crosby and as a pro in general. During one preseason game, the 22-year-old Guentzel even remarked about how he was looking forward to playing with “the young guys” and seeing what they could bring. What a difference a year makes.

“You kind of know what to expect coming in,” he said. “You’re a little bit more comfortable. Just the guys and being around them, it gives you a little more confidence on the ice. Definitely feel better coming into this year.”

It also helps that he’s been able to get a more permanent living situation after being stuck in a hotel last season. Guentzel has an apartment in downtown Pittsburgh close to teammate Olli Maatta and is living on his own, without a roommate, for the first time in his life.

“It’s good. It’s different,” Guentzel said. “A lot of alone time. Try to keep yourself busy sometimes. But it gets a little lonely. But I’ll take it.”

Despite having a lot of free time, Guentzel has yet to decorate his new place – “I’m just waiting for my parents to come,” he joked. On practice days, Guentzel said he hangs out at the rink for as long as he can before going home, taking a nap and then usually plays video games before getting dinner somewhere in Market Square or the South Side.

Honestly, the biggest adjustment for Guentzel are the off-ice obligations that come with being an NHL player – mainly interviews. Talking with reporters isn’t something he’s too comfortable with or really had to do in college or the AHL. But as he said, “You come here and it’s a big thing, so you’ve kind of got to adjust to that. It’s different, but I guess it’s a good thing. And I’ll deal with it.”

He may come off as a quiet kid, but he has that quiet confidence Sullivan mentioned. And with it, he’s ready to get started and build off what he did last year and over the offseason.

“I feel confident,” he said. “I feel comfortable out there. You’re just trying to do the things you worked on in the summer and try to bring it for another year and do your thing.”

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When Zach Aston-Reese was playing for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL during the 2012-13 season, he remembers going up against Jake Guentzel.

“I was playing center when I was at Lincoln, and I don’t think I won one faceoff against him,” Aston-Reese recollected with a laugh. “I always tell everyone that.”

Which is completely understandable, as Guentzel absolutely tore up the league with Sioux City that season – finishing with 73 points (29G-44A) in 60 games and tying a Tier-1 USHL record with a 21-game scoring streak (16G-27A-43PTS). And now, a few years later, Aston-Reese is teaming up with Guentzel at Penguins training camp.

“Kind of funny how times have changed,” Guentzel said with a laugh.

They are examples of the talent that have come out of the USHL, which is bringing its Fall Classic to UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry from Tuesday, Sep. 27 to Sunday, Oct. 1. All 17 organizations that compete in the league will take to the ice in one location for the first time since, coincidentally enough, the 2012-13 season.

Last year, the Penguins and the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms hosted the 2016 USHL Fall Classic East, and two seasons ago, the Penguins hosted the 2015 Pittsburgh Showcase, a regional USHL preseason event.

“We started this event a few years back and have seen it grow from just a few teams to now all 17 teams of the USHL,” said Rich Hixon, president of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “So from that standpoint, we wanted to grow along with the event.”

This year’s event, which is an important evaluation benchmark for players heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, provides an ideal opportunity for management and scouts to view the top USHL talent available. Approximately 250 NHL scouts and college recruiters will be watching, along with fans who will have the chance to see future NCAA and NHL talent – including Penguins 2017 third-round pick Clayton Phillips, who plays for Fargo – under one roof.

“A lot of kids are going from AAA hockey into the USHL, then going on to play at some point in Division I or into the pros depending on their talent level,” Hixon said. “This is a first-chance look to see what some of these players are like now that might be playing in the NHL in a year or two. It’s really a great opportunity to showcase that level of hockey.”

It’s also a fantastic opportunity to showcase what the building – and the community – has to offer, especially during the two Tier I (AAA) tournaments for the top 16U and 14U players from the U.S. and Canada that will run in conjunction with the USHL Fall Classic.

The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which opened in the fall of 2015, is the official practice facility of the Penguins, is home to the Penguins Elite youth hockey program and has so much to offer players who are looking to advance in the sport.

It has world-class power skating and skill development, with the same high-level coaches who work with the Penguins available to train with youth and amateur players year-round.

“Our goal is to promote the sport itself, and to bring the highest level of amateur hockey in here is a great opportunity for us,” Hixon said. “To showcase the facility and really make Pittsburgh that hockey hub for the region, I think it’s important. We have this event, we had the World Cup of Hockey come in and practice here last year, we had an NWHL All-Star Game and are fortunate enough to have another NWHL game coming in this year.

“For us, it’s really about showcasing the sport at all different levels so parents and kids all understand that pathway to play at the next level.”

Fans interested in attending can purchase tickets at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex front desk starting at noon on Tuesday.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 6-5 win against the Detroit Red Wings at PPG Paints Arena.

* There is no doubt the best player in the game was winger Jake Guentzel. He finished the game with one goal and four assists. More impressive is the way he accumulated those points.

Guentzel’s first assist was the result of some grit and tenacity. He went into the end boards hard, separating Trevor Daley from the puck. Then he made a quick pass to Conor Sheary, whose shot was placed into the net on the rebound by Adam Johnson.

Guentzel’s other two helpers were the result of some great vision. On a power play in the second period a Justin Schultz shot went off of the post. There was a scramble in front and the puck found Guentzel in the slot. While 90 percent of players in the league would have shot the puck, Guentzel saw Sheary (through two Red Wings) and slid him a perfect pass for the easy tap-in.

* Speaking of Johnson, he’s one of five players in training camp that are fighting for the third-line center role on the team. No doubt he was the beneficiary of having Guentzel and Sheary as his linemates tonight, but he made the most of his opportunity. Johnson scored two goals in the game, one on a rebound and the other with a nasty shot into the corner of the net.

This preseason was the first taste of pro hockey in Johnson’s career (he’s played the past two seasons at Minnesota-Duluth). He definitely has a learning curve and would benefit from some time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. But with games like Wednesday, he’s making that a hard decision for management.

* While we’re on the topic of the third-line center role, don’t count out Greg McKegg. He picked up an assist and had an impressive showing in Tuesday’s contest against Buffalo at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena. He made such a good impression on the coaching staff that they played him in back-to-back games.

McKegg, 25, has great offensive instincts, and the speed that it takes to really thrive in Mike Sullivan’s system. He scored a goal against Detroit and nearly had a second (the puck went off the post). He also has some NHL experience which may help in the competition against some of the team’s other younger prospects.

* Pens fans got their first look at newcomer Ryan Reaves, though it was a limited look. Mostly due to the large amount of special teams work in the game, Reaves’ ice time was only 10:55. But he made quite an impact in those 11 minutes, registering seven hits.

* The NHL has made it clear that it’s main two “points of emphasis” regarding officiating this season will be face-off violations and slashing. The crackdown, as it usually does, has begun in the preseason. The tightly-called game resulted in seven penalties in the first period alone. There were 16 penalties in total, seven slashing and two face-off violations.

The calls certainly slowed the pace of the game down. It’s still preseason so both the referees and players are still feeling out the process. But hopefully the players adjust quickly.