What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?
That’s a common question these days around Pittsburgh, prompted by Crosby’s unusual pace of production to start the season (13 points in 19 games), his 11-game goal drought and the team’s mediocre start. Crosby’s slump has coincided with the Penguins rough stretch which includes six losses in the last eight games heading into tonight’s home game against Buffalo.
It’s true, putting up numbers is part of Crosby’s job description. It’s also true that as captain, he inherits much of the responsibility for helping the two-time defending champions get their game back in order – whether or not you believe their schedule (a league-high 19 games played, a league-high 13 road games played, a league-high six sets of back-to-back games) has been a factor.
Wrong or Right?
But in times like these, I tend to point to what is right with Crosby. He’s competing hard, as he always does. Playing the whole rink, as he always does. He’s getting a typical number of chances.
According to NaturalStattrick.com, Crosby’s scoring chances are on par with his career averages. Last season, Crosby averaged 2.48 scoring chances per game. This season? 2.68.
His whole career, he’s basically invested in a holistic approach to the game that means putting in the work on-ice and off-ice, in-season and off-season, and believing that when he’s playing the game the way he knows how his skills and instincts will take care of the numbers and he can focus on simply winning.
That’s what carries him through slumps, including the very similar drought he had back in November 2015. Crosby had just 10 points through 19 games and only two goals in his last 13 games under coach Mike Johnston, whose system, of course, did not really suit Crosby’s offensive game. Many will want to remember that the hiring of Mike Sullivan a little more than three weeks later got Crosby back on track with his metrics. But that’s not what happened…
Sail into the Wind
As bleak as things were back then, Sid just stuck with it. He had 10 points in his final 10 games under Johnston and thus had returned to his more typical production routine by the time Sullivan arrived with a way of playing that was better suited to the stars he had inherited. Then the Penguins promoted Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Matt Murray and acquired Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin and, as they say, the rest is history.
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, Crosby, like his teammates, is more man than machine. He fires shots off the goal post sometimes. He partially fans on two-on-one passes sometimes. Or, gets stopped by Braden Holtby and Pekka Rinne sometimes. He gets frustrated and takes penalties sometimes (although, yes, we’re seeing a bit more of that than usual).
Stuff happens. Crosby keeps going. Things return to normal.
Sidney Crosby Kickstarts
There are some things I believe would help Crosby show up on the scoresheet more often:
- Better Power Play Touches. Crosby can be effective down low on the power play or in front of the net, but right now he’s not seeing enough of the puck. It’s primarily a Malkin-Kessel-Letang (or Schultz) play at the moment, and it’s easier for teams to take away passing lanes to Crosby than it is to take away passing lanes from the High slot? Back to the right half-boards in an occasional switch with Malkin? Sid is spending a lot of time winning puck battles or retrieving pucks on the power play but needs more time and perhaps different spaces in which to make plays.
- Linemate Stability. Certainly Sullivan has had good reason to try and end the Penguins’ scoring issues by moving the parts around, and certainly, Crosby can and has played with most of the forwards on the roster. But he’s played with five different sets of wingers in the last eight games, and that never makes things easier when they’re not going in.
- Better Breakouts. The Penguins need more efficient puck movement to Crosby in the defensive zone. One of the hallmarks of the Penguins’ game under Sullivan has been the ability of wingers on the half-wall in their own zone to quickly and efficiently find their centers with speed exiting the zone. I don’t think it’s happening across the board as often for the Penguins this season. The longer the puck is on his stick, the more good things happen and the more penalties he draws (he’s on pace to draw only eight this season after drawing 21 and 19, respectively, the last two seasons).
Maybe Crosby’s slump will end tonight against the Sabres, a team he’s tortured in the past. Maybe not. But if you want to worry, worry about the bottom six production. The number of penalties the Penguins are taking. Their recent penalty-killing issues. Or, their backup goaltending situation.
Don’t worry about Sid.