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After A Mixed-Bag Regular Season, Sidney Crosby Back In His Natural Element

Sidney Crosby is turning his game up at just the right time.
Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP

Did you know that Sidney Crosby played all 82 games this year ? Normally, that’s not a big deal, as plenty of players do this every year. In fact, Crosby’s teammate, Phil Kessel, has done it for eight straight seasons (one was the 48-game lockout year). But for Sid, it is something to trumpet as he’s never done it in his injury-plagued career. He’s come close with two 80-game and two 81-game campaigns, but this was the first all-82’er.

However, more Crosby didn’t produce more statistics. In fact, I would put forth that this was his worst overall regular season. Crosby had ‘only’ 89 points (a disappointing 10th overall in the NHL), which translated to a 1.09 points per game average. That total was the second-lowest of his brilliant career, just ahead of the 1.06 points/game season in 2015-16. His shooting percentage of 11.7% was also the second-lowest, just ahead of the 10.7% from 2011-12. And for what it’s worth, his plus/minus rating of 0 was the worst since his rookie year’s -1.

There’s plenty of reasons (or excuses, depending on how you frame it) for 87’s down year in point production. Like many of the Penguins for the first half of the year, Crosby’s linemates struggled badly for large swathes of the season. The team, including Crosby, seemed bored and/or tired up until January.

But all was not terrible for Crosby. He continued to hone his work in the faceoff circle, with a sterling 53.0 win percentage, the fourth-highest of his career. In some way to alleviate his boredom or because he was frustrated with passing the puck to teammates that couldn’t convert at his rate, Crosby put together a package of highlight reel batted puck goals, especially in recent weeks.

This gem against the Canadiens in mid-March doesn’t look like much until you watch the replay in slow-motion. Then you realize that Crosby is a savant with his hand-eye coordination.

In the last game of the season against the Senators, Crosby continued to refine his ‘score from behind the end line by banking it off the goalie’ technique that he has already mastered. Again, I think he was just bored.

And then the playoffs started. This is what Sidney Crosby has been waiting for the whole year. When you’re the best player in the NHL and you’ve won everything there is to win in hockey, including back-to-back Cups, it’s only human nature to pace yourself until it’s go time. That time is now.

This mid-air beauty from Game 1 against the Flyers was part of the 7-goal orgy that embarrassed the Flyers. This goal, in particular, was the one that chased Brian Elliot from the net for the night.

Evgeni Malkin in the regular season was a force of nature in the second half of the year. He continues to torment the Flyers in this series, as evidenced by his eye-popping 62.7% Corsi For. Malkin is a beast. But Crosby sits on his perch with 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) and is back in his natural environment.

A few years back, when the Penguins were in the midst of their malaise of not being very successful in the playoffs between 2009 and 2016, there was a narrative floated that Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks was the consummate captain and leader. At the time, the Blackhawks were the dominant team in the NHL, as they filled that post-2009 void left by the Pens when they won three Cups of their own. But as time has invariably marched on, it’s clear that Toews can’t (and probably never) hold a candle to Crosby. Especially since, you know, Crosby is actually both a leader and a good offensive player that has scored more than 79 points in a single season.

Is Crosby slowing down ? Maybe. I’ve personally advocated for him to step away from the game for fears of his long-term post-NHL health. But athletes, especially the ones at the very pinnacle of their sport, are wired differently than you and I. This is his life, this is all that he knows. He’s still a master craftsman and until he’s shaking hands on the losers end of the handshake line, Sidney Crosby is going to drive the Penguins as far as he can on the road to a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

2 Comments on After A Mixed-Bag Regular Season, Sidney Crosby Back In His Natural Element

  1. Bob Stover // April 19, 2018 at 12:54 PM //

    I think the biggest reason for the slight downturn in Sid’s production is the inordinate number of back-to-back games the Pens played this year. At 30, it’s not as easy as it used to be, and with this stupid bye week built in this year, there were more back-to-back games than usual. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  2. Every year now Crosby is getting closer, statistically, to the top echelon of NHL royalty. By the time he is done I have no doubt he will be second, behind only Gretzky, in all time playoff points. Also, maybe also top 5 all time regular season points. Pittsburgh’s really need to enjoy this guy, and Malkin, while we can.

    As an aside, remember all those ridiculous comments just 2 or 3 years ago saying that maybe we should trade Crosby? On a wider scale, remember how some ignoramuses wondered around that time which franchise (Steelers, Pens, Pirates) would bring Pittsburgh its next championship? The freaking Pirates They really should not even be in the discussion with the other two great Pittsburgh organizations.

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