Conversation has perennially buzzed around the topic of who Ray Shero can get to play with Sidney Crosby, over and over, ad nauseum. Hockey talking heads felt semi-optimistic about the acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, but it always seemed that these guys were what could be obtained for now; after all, Guerin was in his waning years, 38 at the time he picked up and moved off the Island to the southwest corner of the Keystone State.
Even at the end of a fairy tale Stanley Cup-winning season, speculation was whimsical regarding Guerin, given his age. He played his 1,200th NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks a little over a month ago, just 6 days shy of his 39th birthday.
Well, “The Old Man” has proven to this point that he can not only “hang” with the young guns, but do it with relish night in and night out. In the last handful of games, he has begun to develop a nifty passing style that has helped Sir Sid net a few pretty goals. He breaks the plane of the offensive blue line and quite beautifully slides a pass with not too much speed but just enough on the tape of Sid’s blade. It’s a subtle move, almost mesmerizing to watch as it happens. Keep an eye out for it.
Does he have the legs? You betcha. He’ll tear off up ice in a foot race to try to negate an icing against his team. He’ll haul “ice” to jump in an odd-man break like he’s Tyler Kennedy.
What about his eyesight and his reflexes? Sharp as a tack and spry as a spring. Case in point: the game-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers where Sergei Gonchar broke out of the Pens’ end with a blistering tape-to-tape stretch pass to an already flying Sidney Crosby, and who should be coming on strong along with the Pens’ captain, doing his version of the Center Drive? Big Billy Guerin. Sid’s slapper disappeared under netminder Brian Boucher’s pads, but as Guerin’s momentum carried him across the front of Boucher to the left post, he caught sight of the puck and with lightning reflexes, beat Boucher to scoop the puck into the net.
OK, so exciting prose is fine, but what about the stats to appease the skeptics? Hold on to your hat:
- Tallied 6 points in a recent 8-game-stretch (2G-4A), posting his 8th goal of the season against the home game against the Flyers.
- In 51 regular season games with the Penguins, he’s accumulated 33 points (13G-20A).
- Currently ranks among the top 15 in the league with game-winning goals, his latest against the home Flyers game.
- As of the New Jersey game, he is 3rd in scoring on the team (9G-13A for a +7) behind two of the Four Horseman: Crosby and Malkin, and in a footrace with the third, Jordan Staal.
- His (22 points, 9G-13A) just nudged him ahead of Staal (21 points, 10G-11A for a +6) in what seems to be a friendly, healthy, informal competition between these two. Who better to help a young center along in his development?
- He’s posted 5/11 goals-attempts in games that went to a shoot-out with one of those goals deciding the game in the Pens’ favor.
And then there are the intangibles. Pittsburgh fell in love with the eccentric, crocodile-eyed, health nut Gary Roberts not so long ago. Talk was that Roberts was the grizzled veteran needed in a locker room of youthful, inexperienced guys, but Roberts’ disposition could only go so far. Roberts’ exuded the presence of a tightly-strung guy. Guerin brings a nice balance of experience and even-keeled temperament that perfectly nurtures a young captain without smothering him. Guerin simply looks comfortable in his own skin and content with his role on this team. It’s not what he says so much as it is how he carries himself.
Evidence of this is his steady pace of point production and the more obvious feel that he’s at a point in his playing relationship with Sid that they are now reading each other much like Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. Guerin and Crosby are now in concert with each other where it is natural and no longer academic. Guerin is also doing more in front of the net in both even-strengthed and man-advantage situations. Guerin keeps Sid loose and the rest of the team follows. Cementing that bond is the fact that “The Old Man” thinks nothing of dropping the gloves and making an impressive showing to the defense of his team mate, whoever he is.
The prediction here is that Bill Guerin has found a home where he can see himself finishing his career with his head held high. Anyone who was either at the Stanley Cup parade on that sunny June day or was watching it on a TV, could hear the chants of the crowd at the end of the line when Guerin took his turn at the podium. It was a very clear, resounding, emphatic repetitive chant of “One more year!!” It will be a year-to-year, season-to-season evaluation, but as much as Pittsburgh fell in love with #13, he too seems to have fallen in love with the ‘burgh, gaining a new lease on hockey life as he told WTAE’s Sally Wiggin on parade day, “My heart said I want to come back here.”