NASHVILLE – Jake Guentzel joked earlier in the Stanley Cup Final that the first time he saw his locker room stall would be next to Sidney Crosby’s, he was just scared to mess things up for the star center.
“But Sid has been nothing but a help to me on and off the ice,” said Guentzel, the Penguins rookie and NHL’s leading goal scorer in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it wasn’t a coincidence that the 22-year-old Guentzel was placed to the left of Crosby.
“We tend to put a lot of the young guys next to Sid when they come up and join our team,” Sullivan said. “He’s such a great influence on them. I think the leadership that he provides, just those informal conversations are great for a young player. I think Sid has a really nice way of making those guys feel comfortable when they come into our dressing room. The influence he has on these kids goes a long way to giving these kids the confidence that they need.
“When you look at our locker room, for a young player, on the surface it could be an intimidating locker room. We have a lot of star power in there. These guys really look up to some of the players that we have on our team, Sid being probably the guy that personifies that. I think he has a great way of disarming that right away, making guys feel comfortable when they come into our dressing room.”
Veteran Matt Cullen said Crosby is not only this way with youngsters.
“He’s one of the best just all-around teammates I’ve ever had,” said Cullen, 40. “He doesn’t get enough credit for that. Obviously he’s one of the best players to ever play the game, and everybody agrees with that, but I was impressed off the ice how he really makes a point of going out of his way to make everybody feel a part of the team. I was a 38-year-old veteran coming to the team last year, but he went out of his way to offer to help me look for houses or help me with any transitions that I needed for the kids. He has a lot on his plate. I think there’s more asked of him than any player in the league, and he’s accommodating when it comes with the media, with everything. He’s as good as they get. And it’s all genuine.
“You see that with young guys like Guentzel or [Conor] Sheary last year. He goes out of his way to make people feel comfortable within the group. That goes a long way. Think it’s easy for a kid like Guentzel to come up and immediately be put on a line with Sid? No way, but when Sid makes you feel comfortable on the side, it goes a long way to making you feel comfortable playing next to him on the ice.”
Guentzel was a huge Crosby fan growing up. On the other hand, Ryan Guentzel, Jake’s oldest brother, was an “Alex Ovechkin guy” growing up.
But, Ryan Guentzel says, “Getting now to watch Crosby play and hearing Jake tell us about him as a person, I can’t respect this guy enough.”
Injured but impressed
Injured Predators No. 1 center Ryan Johansen said it has been easier than he thought being sidelined by a thigh injury.
“The identity and the character of our team, how we’re built, it’s been pretty easy to watch because, I mean, these guys, every time they’re on the ice, they throw everything they’ve got,” Johansen said. “They’re not going to stop for anything. As I’ve been sitting on the couch basically for the last two weeks, it’s been really inspiring watching guys like Freddy Gaudreau, Austin Watson, Pontus Aberg, just elevating their games.”
• The Predators tinkered with their lineup for Game 3, playing forwards P.A. Parenteau and Harry Zolnierczyk and scratching Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler.
• Penguins forward Nick Bonino (ankle) was scratched and replaced by Carl Hagelin.