“Well, I don’t know if I fit into the older player category…” said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby after chuckling at a question from Pittsburgh Hockey Now about older players struggling to get their legs in this compressed COVID season.
Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Anze Kopitar are just some of the established names in their 30s who are scoring well below normal rates or have already battled injuries.
A crazy stat was sent to me on Monday night from a former team PR director.
“Get this, Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary have as many goals this season as Ovi!”
I looked it up. It’s true. The Washington Capitals powerhouse has two goals. So, too, do Penguins castoffs Sprong and Sheary. Giroux has one goal. Staal has five points in 10 games. Kopitar also has just one goal.
In fairness, Ovechkin missed several games after the NHL put him into COVID protocol for visiting a teammate’s hotel room.
Malkin’s struggles are well documented in Pittsburgh. He owned up to decreased conditioning and his struggles, which were directly tied to pandemic closures and a lack of training camp.
“I understand I’m not playing great right now,” Malkin said last week. “It’s a different season. Short training camp. No preseason games. It’s a little bit different for sure,” Malkin said. “I need to look at myself in the mirror. I need to find my body, find myself and help the team win for sure and I understand that.”
Unfortunately, I have a unique ability to offend without effort. It’s my superpower, much like Sidney Crosby scores points or effortlessly scoops pucks for a lacrosse style attempt. Hopefully, Mr. Crosby laughed off the term “older player,” even if he is 33-years-old.
No offense Sid, you are kind-of an older player. Remember, being 20-years-old and looking at people in their 30s? Time flies, but I digress.
“I don’t know. It’s not easy for anybody. It’s a short camp and things like that. Everyone prepares differently and has their own opinion,” Crosby said. “For me, personally, I haven’t played a lot of hockey in the last year. I love that we’re able to jump into games and play every second day.”
Crosby is one of the “other side” of, shall we say, more seasoned players. Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Kane, John Tavares are players in their 30s who are ripping it up. Crosby has four goals and four assists in 10 games. Kane and Bergeron are scoring at a point-per-game pace.
“I don’t know if I fit into the older category or not, but I like (the schedule),” he concluded.
That’s fitting. Sidney Crosby wants to play hockey and play more hockey.
But there is a clear difficulty for many players to find a rhythm. Is it more difficult for the older players to get on their toes? It seems so, especially as Pittsburgh Penguins Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker appear to be on their game. Young Penguins players such as Kasperi Kapanen, Teddy Blueger, and P-O Joseph needed less ramp-up, too.
As part of his mea culpa, Malkin likely spoke for a lot of players.
“No (I didn’t do the same workouts this offseason) because of the situation. Everything was closed in Russia, too. We had ice, but we didn’t have any gyms. Everything was closed, and (workouts) were not easy to find,” Malkin said. “I won’t say it’s my fault. (Offseason workouts) are not the same as a training camp. I was doing my best. I skated every day and tried to do workouts after; use my body. Do squats, pushups.”
But Crosby, who sources said “worked out like an animal” during the pandemic, has had early-season success. For the rest of the mortals, the early season has been the training camps. The teams and players we see now should continue to improve.
Everything should improve. Maybe even the Pittsburgh Penguins power play, too.
Editor’s Note: We removed Sean Couturier from the list of players in their 30s who are struggling or injured.