Dominik Simon isn’t like some of the talented players who just cannot play with Sidney Crosby. Those players press and try to force pucks to the greatest player of this generation. They are a step behind when Crosby begins to exploit the defense and they don’t go the spots Crosby expects to find his linemate. They zig when they should zag.
Not Dominik Simon.
The Penguins second-year player was unheralded moving through the Penguins system but the 24-year-old from Prague, Czech Republic has earned important fans in the Penguins locker room, notably Crosby. While Crosby speaks well of all of his teammates, Pittsburgh Hockey Now has been told by numerous sources about Crosby’s preference to play with Simon.
Simon was a Penguins fifth-round choice in 2015 as a 20-year-old, but he earned three games in the NHL that season and has continued earning more. His chemistry with Crosby doesn’t hurt.
“Every time, you’re on his line, you learn so much. It makes you a better player. He has such a huge impact,” Simon said of Crosby.
Most young players are star struck with Crosby. Players forget themselves and look to pass to a player who has won gold medals, Stanley Cups, scoring trophies, MVPs, and is one of the great players in hockey history. No pressure, right?
“Once you get on the ice, you gotta get over it, somehow, if you want to play the game as you play it,” Simon conceded. “Sometimes it’s hard to not be like, ‘hey, it’s Sid’ but once you get on the ice you’ve got to get over it.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound winger is stocky but fast. His fearless puck pressure is a solid compliment to Crosby’s creative game and to Crosby’s physical, grinding game. Simon gets to pucks in the corner and extends offensive possession for the Penguins top line. More zone time means more chances for Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Simon struggled early this season and found himself beside Daniel Sprong on the Penguins bench in the third period of several games. He was trying to do too much, be too much, and in the process, made costly mistakes. But on the recent four-game road trip, Simon began to make amends.
“I think (Simon) has been good at times,” said head coach Mike Sullivan on Oct. 23, as Simon was struggling. “He’s a very good playmaker. He’s strong on the puck. For a guy that’s not overly big, he’s really strong on the puck, and there have been times when he’s been very effective.”
Simon raced to the end wall in that game to win a puck battle and set up Patric Hornqvist’s goal. But Simon was also benched in that Oct. 23, 6-5 OT win. The following game in Calgary, Simon got the message. This time, he set up Matt Cullen with a similar play and earned more ice time.
When Derick Brassard was injured on the trip, the Penguins again paired Crosby and Simon, and the results have been spectacular. Simon set up Crosby for a goal in Vancouver with a nifty pass on the rush. Crosby earned an assist on Simon’s goal Tuesday against the Islanders.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com and their Line Tool, Simon has a significant impact on Crosby’s zone time and chances.
With Dominik Simon, Crosby’s Corsi rating is nearly 67 percent, in nearly 21 minutes of time together. Without Simon, Crosby’s number drops to 54 percent (134 minutes). The pair has scored five goals and yielded one (83.3 percent) and have owned 77 percent of scoring chances.
Without Simon, Crosby has owned only 53 percent of scoring chances. Crosby undoubtedly makes Simon better. Could it also be that Dominik Simon makes Sidney Crosby better?
The small sample size with Simon this season skews the numbers. However, the statistical break is supported by last season’s stats, as well.
Last season, Crosby experienced a statistical jump with Simon, as well. Crosby’s Corsi rating in 265 minutes with Simon was 61 percent, seven points higher than his rating without Simon. Last year, Crosby was on the ice for more goals against than for, without Simon (42 goals for, 50 against). With Simon, the paired scored twice as many as allowed (18 goals for, nine goals against).
The important stat: Crosby’s percentage of scoring chances also spiked with Simon, up to 62 percent, compared to just 54 percent with others.
Unheralded, sometimes scorned by Penguins fans, but potentially vital to the Penguins. Dominik Simon.
As Simon matures at the NHL level, the Penguins may have found a keeper. When he’s on his game, there isn’t much doubt he makes Crosby better and there aren’t many linemates who can make that claim.