Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has revealed his genius. Once again. This time, it concerns his observation about center and team captain Sidney Crosby and his approach to the ongoing stretch run of the season.
Sullivan noted after Tuesday’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, when Crosby had a goal and three assists, that this is when Crosby is in his element.
“I think this is his favorite time of year. … He tends to play his best when the stakes get high,” Sullivan said.
He might be onto something. While losing isn’t a basket of laughs, Crosby was upbeat Friday, a day after the Maple Leafs exacted some revenge with a 4-0 win in Toronto, the back half of the home-and-home.
Coming off a loss seemed like an interesting time to ask Crosby about Sullivan’s observation.
Sullivan wasn’t wrong.
“Yeah, I think it’s a time when, obviously, you look at the standings. Points are important, as they always are, but you start to see it here,” Crosby said after the Penguins practiced at PPG Paints Arena. “You’re kind of in that phase where it’s always a race, always a sprint. You’re competing to get to the playoffs, and I think for anybody that’s a lot of fun.”
Crosby, as with the rest of his teammates, was shut out Thursday, but he has seven goals, 23 points in 14 games since he returned from a core muscle injury the required surgery and kept him out for two months.
That’s a considerable stretch to smile about, but how would one tell from day to day, game to game, win or lose, that Crosby is entrenched in, as Sullivan described it, his favorite time of the season?
A little hop in his step? A wider grin than usual? More horsing around with his teammates? Brighter eyes in team meetings?
That’s where Sullivan’s genius comes in.
“I don’t know,” Crosby said. “That’s a good one. I don’t have a great answer for that one.
“I think it’s just the way you get up for every game. A lot of divisional games. It’s kind of a playoff mentality or that type of hockey. The games are tight and close. I think that always makes it more fun.”
As for the higher stakes, Crosby has never shied from them. See 10 years ago next week, when he scored the overtime goal against the United States to give Canada the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver. And many, many other examples.
The stakes certainly are mounting now with the Penguins.
There are less than seven weeks left in the season. The Penguins are tied with Washington in points atop the tight Metropolitan Division, although they have a game in hand.
So there’s no telling how much fun and how many points Crosby might have in the coming days and weeks, starting with afternoon games Saturday at home against Buffalo and Sunday at Washington.
While contemporary superstar Alex Ovechkin is one goal from reaching 700 – something that could conceivably happen Sunday against the Penguins – Crosby is on the cusp of a nice round number, too.
He sits at 798 assists, close to joining 31 others in NHL history with 800.
Asked Friday if he was aware he was also closing in on a round number – albeit one much less chronicled than Ovechkin’s – the notoriously superstitious Crosby smiled.
“Maybe, yeah,” he said.
Asked if he wanted to talk about it, Crosby was predictable.
“Not really.” And he laughed.
See? His favorite time of the year.